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Mental health and small business

Posted September 9, 2019

Running your own business can be hugely rewarding, but for many small business owners, having sole responsibility for the company’s success or failure can take its toll. It can be easy to focus all your time and attention on your business and forgot about your own health and wellbeing.

Sole traders and small business owners who employ staff face a range of unique challenges. Therefore, it is essential that you take care of yourself and, if you are an employer, your staff as well.

With “R U OK? Day” coming up on Thursday 12 September, now is a good time to check in on your own wellbeing and that of your employees.

R U OK? Day is a national day of action that reminds us that every person and every conversation counts. Staying connected, having meaningful conversations and reaching out to people who you can see are struggling is something we can all do.

Work and mental health

Work can have a positive and negative impact on our mental health. Generally, work is good for a person’s mental health and wellbeing.  However, work-related stress can arise where the demands of a person’s job are greater than their abilities or resources to do the work.

Some of your staff will also experience mental health issues unrelated to their work. It is important to be aware of this so you can consider how you can protect the health of yourself and your employees, and support staff who may be experiencing mental health issues.

Benefits of creating a mentally healthy business

In a small business where you employ staff (who may be family and close friends) it’s important to ensure they feel valued and supported.

Creating a workplace that promotes mental health and wellbeing has many benefits:

  1. Prevent workplace issues from arising or address them early on

By creating a mentally healthy workplace, small business owners can prevent and address workplace issues early on. These issues may include staff not coping with the demands of their role or experiencing a mental health condition. Reducing job stress experienced by staff is a requirement for all business owners under work health and safety legislation.

By being on the front foot, you can encourage staff to speak to you about an issue as it arises and address it before it affects your business.

  1. Improve the productivity of your staff

Staff who work in businesses that support them and promote their mental health are more engaged, productive and provide better customer service. Although many people with mental health issues manage their conditions well, some may take more time off or be less productive in the workplace. For example, if you have four staff and one is away sick, this reduces your capacity by 25 percent and can create pressure on everyone else in your business as they may need to take on additional duties.

By creating a mentally healthy workplace, you can increase the engagement and productivity of staff, and reduce absenteeism and potential stress claims.

  1. Find and keep the best staff

Being a workplace that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing can make it easier to find and keep the best staff. This can save you significant amounts of time and energy finding quality staff to help grow your business.

Research has found that three quarters of Australian employees say a mentally healthy workplace is important when looking for a job. Young workers particularly value mentally healthy workplaces.

How to create a healthy small business

Many small businesses are naturally mentally healthy work environments – the nature of working in smaller teams relies on developing trust and respect. Mentally healthy workplaces are where everyone, including you as the owner, has shared responsibility in promoting mental health.

You and your staff need to work together to create an environment where everyone supports each other and feels comfortable to speak openly about stress and mental health. Business owners need to regularly check in with staff and address any workplace issues early on.

Creating a healthy small business isn’t as hard as it sounds. A good way to start is to ask yourself and your staff a few questions to get a better understanding of how people in your business are going. Here are some ideas to help get you started:

Look at staff engagement and participation

  • How do your staff greet each other when they arrive each day?
  • Are they respectful to each other?
  • Are they happy to help each other out?


Ask your staff

  • What do they value about their work? What parts of their role do they really enjoy doing?
  • Is there any part of their role or the workplace that they find challenging?
  • What ideas do they have for improvements?

You can have conversations with staff through one-on-one meetings, in team meetings or casually over a cup of coffee. Think about the approach that best fits your business e.g. if you have a catch up every week, you may just add it to this.

As small businesses are generally dynamic places to work, with demands and pressures constantly changing, it is important to have these conversations regularly. Based on the answers to the above questions, rank the issues by importance to improving mental health and wellbeing, and choose a few to focus on as a starting point.

Other ideas include:

  • Make a commitment to mental health in the workplace and offer education or training in mental health.
  • Focus on the work environment by implementing simple things like more natural light and plants.
  • Encourage healthy food options. Some businesses have a weekly fresh fruit delivery.
  • Have regular catch-ups with employees to listen to any concerns and get feedback.

R U OK? Day

R U OK? Day on Thursday 12 September is a great opportunity to start having conversations with your employees. Having a cup of coffee and asking the simple question not only shows that you care, but also makes people feel important and valued.  The team at R U OK? has some excellent conversation tips to help get you started.


Where to get more information

R U OK? at Work

Heads Up – Healthy Workplaces



We want to answer your questions

Our workplace advisors are standing by and ready to answer your questions. For further advice or assistance on this topic, or any workplace relations matter, please call us on 02 9221 9911, 8:30am – 5:30pm AEST Monday to Friday.

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