More Than One-in-Three SMEs Affected By Mental Health Conditions

More than a third of New Zealand SME (small to medium enterprise) owners and decision-makers have experienced a mental health condition since starting or taking over their current business – with some experiences increasing over the last year, according to business management platform, MYOB.

Research from the 2021 MYOB Business Monitor revealed that 36 percent of SME owners and managers have experienced a mental health condition since starting or taking over their current business. When MYOB last polled SMEs on the topic of mental health in late 2019, 31 percent of those surveyed reported experiencing a mental health condition.

MYOB senior sales manager SME Krissy Sadler-Bridge, explains business owners are often working so hard on their business, being a responsible employer, and dealing with customers, that it doesn’t take long for pressure and strain to build up.

“Our SMEs are incredibly hardworking – there’s good reason why they are often referred to as the backbone of our economy. But the challenges of running a business, coupled with COVID-19, has been pushing some businesses to their limits, testing their employees and resources,” Sadler-Bridge said.

“For many business owners, failure is viewed in a negative light and there’s often a feeling they’ll be letting others down if they don’t do well. This in turn puts huge pressure on business owners to just keep going, get their head down and do everything possible to succeed, however, taking this approach can have huge consequences on a person’s mental health. This is why we need to continue to reshape the conversation so that what someone deems a ‘failure’, is instead seen as a growth or learning experience.”

Of those SME owners and managers who have experienced a mental health condition, 76 percent said they have been affected by stress, 64 percent said anxiety, and 43 percent said they have been affected by depression.

COVID-19 top factor negatively impacting wellbeing

The latest Business Monitor insights also revealed that more than half (52 percent) of New Zealand’s local SMEs cited COVID-19 repercussions (e.g. lockdowns, uncertainty) as the top factor having a negative impact on their wellbeing. This was followed by lack of sleep (37 percent), workload (27 percent), personal finances (20 percent), personal relationships (19 percent) and business finances (17 percent).

For SMEs with five-19 employees, 64 percent said COVID-19 repercussions had negatively impacted their wellbeing – the highest proportion based on business size by employees. In comparison, for SMEs with one to four employees, workload has had a negative impact on the wellbeing of more than a third (37 percent) of businesses – 10 percentage points higher than the SME average.

“When we look at the business confidence insights from our Business Monitor, SMEs said that the COVID-19 pandemic (59 percent) and the vaccine roll-out (34 percent) were the top local factors that were having the biggest impact on their level of confidence. For that reason, it’s understandable that COVID-19 is also the leading factor negatively impacting SME operators’ wellbeing,” Sadler-Bridge noted.

“What matters most now is how we harness opportunities to offer support to SMEs during this time. It’s important for them to feel that they’re not alone in this and there are a number of avenues available offering help, understanding and support when they are experiencing mental distress, including Lifeline or the free-text service, 1737.”

Discussing mental health in the workplace

Despite more than a third of SME owners or managers experiencing a mental health condition since starting or taking over their business, just 28 percent of all SMEs polled said they had discussed mental wellbeing in the workplace – 72 percent had not.

Further insights from the Business Monitor also revealed that SMEs with five-19 employees are more likely to discuss mental wellbeing in the workplace (57 percent), compared to smaller-sized SMEs with one to four employees (34 percent).

When it came to going a step further, only 11 percent of SMEs surveyed said their business had implemented new wellbeing practices, initiatives, or support for employees in the past year, while more than four-in-five (82 percent) had not implemented anything new in this area.

“Looking into how to support their employees’ mental wellbeing might appear on the surface not to be a priority, but in reality – for many SMEs – their employees are their greatest concern. Those running a business also often feel responsible not just for them but also their families, which is why you will hear about business owners going unpaid or even selling off assets, so that they can keep the payroll going,” Sadler-Bridge explained.

“It’s worth remembering though that there are organisations who can help business owners get started in this area – like the Smile Initiative. It also helps to consider what simple strategies or tactics could see them offer employees support in a way that fits their workplace.

“For example, at MYOB, we have a number of ‘Mental Health First Aid Officers’ across our New Zealand and Australian offices. These are team members who have been trained to provide confidential, informal support to other employees in our workplace. The aim here isn’t to replace professional services, but instead give employees the confidence to seek the right help and point them to where to get the support they need, if they are struggling.

“It’s important that employees know they are not alone, and speaking with someone is a great first step.”

Improving and managing mental wellbeing

To address, improve or manage their mental wellbeing, SMEs continue to turn to physical activities or spending time engaging with loved ones. The latest insights showed:

  • 56 percent of SMEs turn to exercise
  • 54 percent choose social time with family and friends
  • 49 percent engage in hobbies or entertainment
  • 40 percent take time out from the business.

Just over one-in-10 (12 percent) also said they do some meditation to help improve their mental wellbeing.

Creating a tool that SMEs can use as part of or around their daily routine, MYOB partnered with Smiling Mind – a leading mental health prevention not-for-profit – to deliver a mindfulness program designed specifically to support the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of small business owners.

Available free (via the Smiling Mind app) for small business owners in New Zealand and Australia, the program is made up of four modules, all created to help small business owners proactively manage the unique range of stressors and challenges they face – from stress management, to relationships, resilience and building mindfulness foundations.