Mental Health and SMEs – what’s changed?

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way small businesses operate, whether this is furloughing employees, shifting to online retail, temporarily closing or taking on loans to keep the business afloat. Covid-19 has also had a profound impact on the mental health of business owners and their employees.

Let’s have a closer look at what has affected the mental health of the nation, and small business owners in particular, and discuss what SME owners can do to improve mental health for themselves and for their employees as the coronavirus situation in the UK continues to improve.

Social restrictions

Ongoing restrictions negatively affect mental health, with distancing from family and friends and social isolation impacting the most vulnerable. Many have struggled with these restrictions – with feelings of loneliness, guilt and anxiety – and aren’t able to cope effectively with the demands and pressures of the workplace.

With restrictions in place for over 12 months now, the impact on mental health is clear to see.

Financial worries

Financial worries and concerns regarding unemployment – and for the business owner, the sense of responsibility for the livelihoods of their employees as well as themselves – impact mental health.

Small businesses often have more precarious financial situations, especially start-ups, so the financial pressure may be greater than in larger, more established businesses.

The Mental Health Foundation reports that last April, over a third of people in full-time work surveyed were concerned about losing their job during the pandemic

Stress and responsibility

Owning a small business is stressful, and it’s sometimes said that it’s lonely at the top. There is always too much to do, and often not enough support.

At the same time, the business owner may have to be the creative lead, the HR department, the marketing team, the finance director as well as the production manager. These disparate roles, which are not always within the skillset of the business owner, can create stress and anxiety.

Let’s not forget the stress caused by worrying about your health and the health of your family, friends of colleagues. At the start of coronavirus, we weren’t completely sure what the symptoms were, so every sniff or cough (even if it was caused by hayfever!) was enough to make people self-isolate from other members of their household. On top of this, business owners had to protect the health of their employees, whether these were factory workers in an essential industry, medical workers, or essential shopfloor employees. This responsibility undoubtedly weighed heavily on business owners.

stressed business owner

The ONS 2020 survey indicated lower levels of subjective wellbeing and higher anxiety than in the last quarter of 2019

‘WFH’ – the new norm

For everyone, not only business owners, the pandemic has made it harder to separate home life from work life. A laptop on the dinner table makes it easy to keep working late into the night.

Separation from colleagues can increase loneliness, leaving single people feeling isolated. Having young children at home during lockdown also put incredible pressure on working parents.

The negative associated impacts of coronavirus will undoubtedly continue for many years, even after some form of normality is restored through vaccination and behavioural change


So, what can SME owners do?

  • Start with yourself. You have a personal responsibility for your own mental health.
  • Connect with others in the same position, through online networking or business groups. You’re not alone as an entrepreneur or small business owner!
  • Make time for yourself (easier said than done, but it seems that exercise and stopping to smell those roses can work miracles…).
  • Seek help if you need it. You will be able to run your business more effectively if you are in a good place mentally.
  • Check in on your team – ask how they are, and take an interest in their wellbeing.
  • Provide mental health awareness and resilience training for your team, encourage breaks and offer wellbeing initiatives.
  • Consider providing counselling for staff. Healing Clouds, an online counselling firm whose clients include Tesco and HSBC, has seen demand shoot up by 84% over the past year.
  • Another initiative to consider is Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) certification, where people are trained to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue.

Looking ahead

Well done for bringing your business through the past year!

COVID-19 forced businesses to become more resilient; successful businesses adapted and moved forwards. If your business has survived the pandemic and economic crisis, you’ve done well.

Could you have imagined 18 months ago what your working day would look like? We hope you experienced some positive changes and are optimistic for the future of your business. (We’re also hoping you’ll have bit more breathing space and time for yourself this month!)

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