As a Beyond Blue speaker and a successful small business owner, I’m often asked how to maintain the mental health of people working in small business. It’s an issue about which I’m passionate – mental health is critically important – but over the years I’ve realised it’s the wrong question. The real question is how do you maintain and protect the mental health of your small business?
You need to use every tool, technique and technology available to look after yourself, your team, your suppliers and your customers.
Easy to say. But how do you do it?
Understand why small business mental health is different
First it’s important to understand the common mental health characteristics particular to small business as opposed to larger corporate organisations.
You have to be “on”, all the time. As a business owner you have no choice but to take total responsibility for every aspect of your business – from sales and marketing through cashflow, financial management, people and operations, to ATO compliance.
That massive burden often breeds a deep loss of control – the very opposite of what you hungered for when you established your own business! Bearing down on you every day, that sense of helplessness makes it so much harder to value yourself and your business.
And there’s the rub.
As a business owner you must value and look after yourself first. It’s the only way you can lead from the front.
There are things you can do to regain control.
Take the pressure off by creating clear responsibilities for everyone in your team. This simple measure frees your organisation to be its best. It empowers your people, who will return the favour in spades.
To mix things up a little, take walking meetings with team members, customers and suppliers. Or maybe meet outdoors, or in a cafe. Mix it up as different locations provide different and calming stimuli. My favourite is to meet in a hotel foyer and relax in the comfort of the lounge.
Regular out-of-office breaks are very important to a mentally healthy business culture. Take off a Friday and escape for a long weekend. I always plan my next holiday before I finish my current one. It gives me a focus for the next time I will be taking a break from business.
You should also set boundaries for you and your team. Simple things like only reading and replying to emails at certain times. Try this: no emails to clients before 8.30am and after 5.30pm. Make this clear up front to clients so you set expectations. Include it in your letter of engagement. It’s often difficult at first to discipline oneself, but itís wonderful when it starts to become business-as-usual. Your customers soon appreciate it as much as you!
Finding your happy place is likewise critical. The beach is my happy place. There’s nothing there in the morning. Just me and the ocean. It really sets up my day for success. It gives me energy and starts the day positively.
I also recommend connecting to your community both socially and to benefit others. For me, it’s volunteering and speaking for Beyondblue. Giving back is very good for the soul.
It’s often the very practical things that make a lot of difference too.
Going paperless removes the daily grind of processing hard copy documents, and creates much better customer experiences. You save time and money and it’s great for your mental health. And of course, team collaboration tools create much more enjoyable and transparent internal communication and help eliminate email – removing stress from both individuals and teams.
Finally – this is really important – be ready to reach out for help whenever you need it. Recently I gave a presentation at the ABE 2019 Conference about business mental health and I cannot tell you the number of people who approached me afterwards seeking guidance. I learned that sometimes the problem is an unwillingness to ask for help.
But often, too, the problem is not knowing where to get help. Here are some sources of help I find useful:
Beyondblue Heads Up www.headsup.org.au resources for small business include actions you can prepare for and plan as a small business owner, including how to look after your staff and prepare your business;
The Everymind Ahead for Business https://everymind.org.au/programs/mental-health-and-small- business online program is targeted at actions small business owners can do to look after themselves;
Other free services including Beyondblue New Access beyondblue.org.au/get- support/newaccess (low intensity Cognitive Behavioural Therapy coaching for when people are experiencing early symptoms of stress).
For a long time I did not include business mental health as a key priority in my business. It was to my detriment. Once I recognised the importance and embraced it in my business, I saw many benefits. It is now part of my everyday. Take time to do the same in your business and see you’ll see immediate results.
Find out more…
For better mental health in the workplace, please visit: headsup.org.au