Owning and Managing a Business Can be Hazardous to your Mental Health.
This article provides an overview of business ownership in the context of mental health.
If you are one of the millions of small and medium business owners around the globe, you probably have a good idea of how tough (and sometimes lonely) it can be at the top of the business – and how owning and managing your own business can be hazardous to your mental health.
It is well-known that our mental health can deteriorate, for a variety of reasons, and, if left unchecked, can lead to mental health problems.
Although depression and anxiety are likely to be the most common issues an owner faces, it is important to remember that mental health symptoms and conditions come in many forms.
2.0 Why Be a Business Owner?
Many of us are drawn to small business because working for others provides its own stresses, for example, the feeling of lost control as others make decisions we may feel unable to influence.
Being a business owner offers a level of freedom and control that we may be unable to achieve as an employee.
3.0 Factors Affecting Mental Health in Owners
Although the symptoms of mental health conditions can be similar between people, the triggers can be very different.
There are a number of factors that could lead to a deterioration in a business owner’s mental health, including:
- Excessive stress;
- A toxic work environment;
- Poor leadership;
- Long hours;
- A lack of sleep; and
- So on.
These can lead to burnout which, in turn, can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Increased competition in your particular market or industry means added pressure to perform and stand out from the crowd, as well as potentially making it more difficult to be financially successful. Business costs may also be rising, possibly faster than your ability to increase sales and revenue – meaning the bottom line is impacted, aka less profit.
Using a contemporaneous example, the business uncertainty surrounding Brexit, especially for export-orientated businesses, can have a profound impact on business planning and sales generation.
4.0 A Blur between Personal, Family & Work
Small business ownership, especially, can be tough because there are few support structures for owners.
As an owner, you are responsible for everything and the lines between personal and family pressures and work are blurred or even non-existent.
Finally, the financial pressures are very real, as it is the owner’s money at stake not a large company’s money.
5.0 I’m In Control!
Business owners may be reluctant to seek, ask or talk about any mental health issues they may be facing due to the need to be perceived as having everything under control.
This means that business owners can, effectively, end up in rather stressful jobs.
With this in mind, most employees will be unaware of the stress attached to owning a business and how challenging cashflow, for example, can be. When margins are tight, paying wages can be extremely stressful. There are real life examples where owners have paid staff wages through their credit cards or overdrafts to ensure their employees get paid – mainly due to a feeling of guilt and not wanting to let them down. It can be stressful knowing that your employee’s family relies on the wage you are paying their loved one.
There is also the stress on marriages, especially if a couple is in business together.
6.0 The Value of Mentors
Other business owners understand what you, as a business owner, are going through. They understand the impact that long hours, for example, can have on the owner’s well-being and their families.
A business mentor can assist by helping the owner find ways of being more effective with their time, among other things.
7.0 Addressing Mental Health Issues
It is imperative that you do not do nothing.
There are a number of things owners can do, at both at an individual and organisational level:
- Know the risks to mental health and well-being in your business.
- What are the triggers?
- Talk about mental health and well-being.
- This helps to normalise it.
- Leaders in your business need to be on board.
- They must send the message to all staff that the business takes mental health seriously.
- Role model what good mental health looks like and what we do when someone needs our help.
- Get some education around mental health.
- The reason that myths and fear exist is because of lack of awareness and knowledge.
- There are workshops, coaches and even online courses now which help plug this knowledge gap.
- Have the conversation with your people.
- Not saying anything to someone who is struggling is not the way to go.
- Simply asking “Are you OK?” is a really good start and shows the person that you have noticed and do care.
- Sleep, nutrition, relationships and exercise all correlate with mental health, so check in on your people to see how they are going with these areas.
- For example, if someone tells you that they have not been sleeping for two months, that is going to take its toll and something needs to be done.
- Know who to go to.
- Have an accessible list of contacts that you can call on for a range of different mental health and well-being matters.
It is important to seek support from someone who:
- Has received appropriate training;
- Is a registered practitioner; and
- Has frequent supervision.
8.0 Pursing Good Mental Health
In the pursuit of good mental health, it is important to:
- Understand our stressors;
- Name our stressors;
- Admit they exist; and
- Aim to avoid them.
If our stressors cannot be avoided, we should attempt to better manage them.
Finally, when possible, it is important as a business owner to make time and take personal care of yourself.