More than one-in-three SMEs affected by a mental health condition

More than a third of NZ SME owners and decision-makers have experienced a mental health condition since starting or taking over their current business.

More than a third of New Zealand SME 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 per cent 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 per cent of those surveyed reported experiencing a mental health condition.

MYOB Senior Sales Manager SME – Krissy Sadler-Bridge, said 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,” she 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 per cent said they have been affected by stress, 64 per cent said anxiety, and 43 per cent 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 per cent) 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 per cent), workload (27 per cent), personal finances (20 per cent), personal relationships (19 per cent) and business finances (17 per cent).

For SMEs with 5-19 employees, 64 per cent said COVID-19 repercussions had negatively impacted their wellbeing – the highest proportion based on business size by employees.

In comparison, for SMEs with 1-4 employees, workload has had a negative impact on the wellbeing of more than a third (37 per cent) 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 per cent) and the vaccine roll-out (34 per cent) 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,” said Krissy.

“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 per centof all SMEs polled said they had discussed mental wellbeing in the workplace – 72 per cent had not.

Further insights from the Business Monitor also revealed that SMEs with 5-19 employees are more likely to discuss mental wellbeing in the workplace (57 per cent), compared to smaller-sized SMEs with 1-4 employees (34 per cent).

When it came to going step further, only 11 per cent 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 per cent) 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,” Krissy explains.

“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 per cent of SMEs turn to exercise
  • 54 per cent choose social time with family and friends
  • 49 per cent engage in hobbies or entertainment
  • 40 per cent take time out from the business.
  • Just over one-in-10 (12 per cent) also said they do some meditation to help improve their mental wellbeing.

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