Mental health is a hot topic that has continued to grow in recent years, and rightly so. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate and can affect any one of us at any time, in fact, 1 in 6 people in any given week will experience a common mental health problem.
Small businesses are unfortunately not immune to this, and can often be even more prone to stress and burnout in the workplace due to the fast-paced nature of start-up and SME culture. It’s more important than ever to instil a positive attitude to mental health in smaller teams and what better time than Mental Health Awareness Week to get started?
We decided to get in touch with Michelle Chan from the Birmingham branch of Mind, one of the UK’s leading mental health charities, to hear her thoughts on how small businesses can effectively promote positive mental well-being in their organisations.
Hi Michelle, What can small businesses do to minimize stress and promote good mental health within their workplace?
A great way to promote good mental health within your organisation is by encouraging your employees is to talk to one another about their mental health concerns. Adding regular supervision sessions to your work calendar, providing training to your staff on Mental Health first aid (MHFA) and partnering up with other businesses to talk about mental health are also fantastic promotion methods.
Don’t overlook the internet too. There are fantastic websites available, such as the Waiting Room and Mind that are packed with information, from the numbers of mental health groups to self-help guides that you and your team can use.
Removing stress from your workplace completely is never going to happen, but there are plenty of things you can do to help your team de-stress when things get hectic. You could introduce holistic therapies like neck and shoulder massage or take part in weekly mindfulness sessions.
You could also offer them the perk of flexible working which allows them to work from a more comfortable environment a few times each month. Then you could always increase your employee’s physical activity by offering them gym memberships or treating your team to a monthly social event, whether it’s a cinema trip or meal out.
Small businesses often fall behind larger organisations when it comes to mental health awareness and support. Why is this?
Large organisations generally have a wider range of resources at their disposal to promote and tackle the mental health concerns of their employees, which is why they often perform better than smaller businesses when it comes to awareness and support. We’ve found that even though many small businesses are eager to champion mental health and provide support to their team, they don’t always know how to get started or have the time to connect with the community resources available to them.
We’ve also encountered small business owners and managers who, because they have only a few employees on their team, don’t even recognise that mental health is a big concern for them.
So if smaller businesses want to level the playing field with larger organisations, they need to get clued up on the potential mental health concerns their employees could be dealing with, as well as the different measures they can put in place to address them effectively. Getting guidance from mental health groups like Mind can help to get them started by increasing their understanding and giving them support when they need it.
Are there signs that small business owners and managers can look out for, in both their employees and themselves, that could indicate stress or anxiety?
All of us experience stress and anxiety in different ways. Sometimes you might be able to tell right away when you’re feeling under stress or anxious, but other times you might keep going without recognising the signs. Here are some of the most common signs that yourself or one of your employees might be experiencing stress or anxiety whilst at work.
Stress can make you feel:
- irritable, aggressive, impatient or wound up
- unable to enjoy yourself
- depressed or uninterested in anything
- neglected or lonely
- constantly worried
- unable to concentrate
- restless and tired all the time
- nausea, light-headed or dizzy
- unable to catch your breath
Anxiety can make you feel:
- nausea, light-headed or dizzy
- restless or unable to sit still
- unable to catch your breath
- tired all the time
- excessively hot
- tense, nervous and angry
- paranoid around others
- unconfident and worried that others are angry or upset with you
It’s important to realise that, while these are some of the most common signs that a person is experiencing stress or anxiety, you or your employee might experience very different symptoms to the ones listed here. This is why it’s so important to get clued up, either by speaking to a mental health professional or your GP, on the wide range of mental and physical symptoms these mental health concerns can produce.
What can small business owners who often work alone do to keep their mental health in check?
Working alone is unavoidable for small business owners, particularly when they are just starting out. Unfortunately, this can feel very isolating as they don’t have anyone they can talk to about the stresses of work and the pressure they feel regarding certain aspects of their work. Thankfully, there’s a whole host of things they can use to stay on top of their mental health.
General everyday things such as eating and sleeping well can have a fantastic impact on mental wellbeing. So, even when you’re run off your feet at work, always schedule time in to take a break and eat a healthy meal during the day and get to bed at a decent hour. There are also loads of apps out there that focus on helping you to keep your mental wellbeing balanced like Headspace for some daily meditation and breathing exercises or a motivational self-help app like Shine to get you started in the morning. There are so many out there you might need to try a few to find one that really works for you.
Using your free time to do things that you enjoy can also improve your mental health and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. So again, make time whether on the evenings or weekends to enjoy your hobbies or to try something you’ve always thought would be fun.
But above all else, talking about the stress, anxiety or any other mental health concern you’ve been experiencing is the most effective thing you can do. Whether it’s a family member, a close friend or during a support group session, unloading some of your feelings to someone will do you a world of good.
What should small business owners and managers do to encourage their employees to open up about their mental health?
One of the best things employers can do to create a more open conversation about mental health within their organisations is to speak about their own personal experiences. Being candid about instances when you or a member of your family have dealt with depression or anxiety can help to break down barriers and let your employees know that they can safely talk about how they are feeling, without judgement or negativity.
Another option is to offer regular wellbeing checks and to put mental health ambassadors within your workplace. Having these meetings in place and a designated person your employees can talk to can also spark open and honest conversations about mental health and help to pinpoint any changes that need to be made.
To learn more about mental health awareness and support in the workplace, you can visit the Mind website.