micro business owners and mental health

What Small Business Owners Can do for their Own Mental Health

Small business owners are amongst the likeliest people to suffer with mental health issues. Here’s what business owners can do to contribute to reducing the problem.

As owners of a small to medium sized enterprise (SME) we take great pride in running a business and providing a service for the local community as well as wider consumers. However, the pressure to run any business comes with its own struggles. Many small business owners very much relish the opportunity of having autonomy, and ‘being their own boss’ but as one famous movie suggests, “with great power comes great responsibility”.  

With this great power, small business owners can find themselves overburdened with a sense of responsibility, a responsibility to the business, to employees and most important of all, their own mental health and wellbeing.  

Neglecting Welfare

Within SME ownership, neglecting personal welfare is, unfortunately, a common problem as owners find themselves bound to the ties of manipulating the needs of the business and the needs of others. For a micro business owner this can often feel relentless and uncompromising, often searching for a sign to suggest that they are ever doing enough for anyone.

The irony is, with the pressure so high on applying oneself to the needs of the business and the needs of the employees without self-care and supported mental wellbeing the foundation of the business will always struggle. This wavering, unaddressed wellbeing can have a detrimental impact on productivity and customer satisfaction.

Hard at Work

Small business owners are notoriously hard workers. Research has shown they work 13 hours a week more than the UK average (37 hours) and it is not uncommon to find smaller business owners working over 80 hours each working week. As a result of which its clear that many small business owners neglect their own physical and mental wellbeing.

Something which exposes small business owners to a higher rate of mental ill health is the lack of structure, support and policies that larger organisations are able to lean on. In smaller enterprises employees, including the owners are often reluctant to take time off if they are feeling unwell for fear of letting colleagues or customers down. A recent Swiss study found that while mental health disorders affect some 20 per cent of the workforce, most business owners and managers rarely have the training needed to detect problems and act quickly. So many workers are left in a difficult position where they feel they can’t share their mental health issues with a colleague, who in turn wouldn’t know how to properly respond if an employee did come to them with a problem.

Need of Support

Without the supporting infrastructure SME owners fail to look after their own mental health and wellbeing as there are very few processes or functions in place where they can discuss or review their wellbeing.

It’s easy to see then why personal wellbeing and mental health quickly slips down the ‘to-do’ list of priorities.

The success of the business is at stake, therefore any time spent away from the business, such as spending time with family or focussing on personal development will be seen as a negative method of working.

Happy Place

However, the avoidance of this perceived ‘negative’ method is very much counter-productive, as it’s just a matter of time before neglecting personal wellbeing will have a detrimental effect on the physical, mental and general sense of happiness. This eludes to a weakened structure or foundation as mentioned above, and once a foundation cracks, the business crumbles.

A key aspect of running a small business is it is found that mental and physical wellbeing is directly correlated with performance. Thus, positive mental health falls in line with positive performance, and the ripple effect of such performance can have a hugely positive impact on a small and medium sized business. A healthy employer makes for healthier employees who can focus longer, dedicate themselves and perform better than those who neglect personal mental and physical condition.

Positive Prevention

Prioritising improved mental health within small owner managed businesses should be up there in priority terms with increasing profit margins and customer satisfaction. This prioritisation can not only prevent illness developing but also boost morale and productivity. Within small businesses it’s the small things that matter. Consider making time for improving healthy eating, enhancing physical environment, taking the time to have a walk at lunchtime… These are examples of things that could very much have a positive impact on mental health.

More often than not owners and employees usually welcome being consulted and involved in wellbeing initiatives; this alone can generate a sense of inclusiveness and efficiency.

As a business owner having the privilege of writing your own rulebook will be invaluable moving forward. The happiest businesses start with a happy business owner, in which case taking steps that consider positive mental health will change your business environment dramatically.

As a business owner you may feel that you are at the top of the tree and nobody is around to help. Finding a ‘wellbeing advocate’ that can help you process your thoughts, feelings and behaviours from a personal and professional point of view is imperative. An advocate is someone you can trust who can feedback when they think you need it. This can include friends, family, a group, colleague, coach or even a health professional. By giving yourself an opportunity to discuss and share responsibility you can then move forward with a more informed decision making process.

How You Work

Reflecting and reviewing the ‘self’ can be hard, however honestly looking at the way you work and the way you manage your business can give you the biggest insight into positive change. Becoming imbedded in business and overly task-focused can be detrimental to mental health.

Considering team bonding days, a drink on Friday evenings with colleagues, encouraging regular breaks, changing the work environment can help you to rebalance and readdress the health and wellbeing of your mind, body and business.  

By re-writing your rulebook you are able to create “rules” and “laws” that suit you and your business. If your experiencing mental ill health, then potentially up until now your internal “rules” haven’t been benefiting the way you work or run your small business.

Some rules can be counter-productive in everyday life and can hinder our mental well-being. By paying attention to how often you say, “I should or I must” will give you great insight into how your current rules influence your behaviour.

Healthier rules are those that are flexible and adaptable, this means that they allow you to adapt your behaviour to various situations. No one can be absolutely certain about everything in life nor does one have control over everything. In which case as a small business owner consider the rule, “It would be great if we could all try our best and work as hard as we can for this project” compared to. “We must always be the best at everything we do, at all costs.”   

Rules can be detrimental to physical and mental health, as the second rule above ensures that our self-esteem remains low because it is setting us up, as business owners… to fail.


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