Making mental health the heart of your business recovery plan

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on many Australian small business owners. Whether you're dealing with changes in revenue, operating, safety or demand, Beyond Blue shares why mental health and wellbeing should be a priority for you and your team.

Key points

  • The pandemic has put Australian small business owners at higher risk of poor mental health.
  • A mental health toolkit can help them build resilience and take care of their staff’s mental health.
  • Beyond Blue says the ideal mental health toolkit incorporates simple initiatives into daily work life.
  • Australia Post shares how it helped protect its people's psychological wellbeing during this time.

The restrictions are easing but uncertainty about the future still looms overhead for many sole traders and small businesses. For many, the last few months have involved significantly reduced work hours or none at all.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported a 32% drop in working hours for the self-employed between February and April. Further data indicated that 72% of businesses have also experienced a drop in revenue.

As small business owners begin putting together a business recovery plan, they’re likely to focus on getting their cash flow in order, reorganising their supply chain, rethinking their workforce and implementing safety in the workplace. There is, however, one more integral element to this plan – mental health.

Patrice O’Brien, Beyond Blue’s Chief Community Officer, says that small business owners are often at risk of poor mental health during ordinary times. “Our research has shown that they often experience high levels of psychological distress from working long hours, feeling isolated and dealing with cash flow issues.”

Add to that the fears and anxieties triggered by a pandemic and it’s clear that if there was ever a time when mental health may need to be integrated into a business plan, it is now. Managing the extra layer of complexity and stress of running a business during this time can require great resilience. The starting point to building that resilience could be a mental health toolkit.

Putting together a mental health toolkit

According to Patrice, a mental health toolkit can function as a pillar of strength for business owners, their staff and their business.

“If your business already has good communication and strong leadership then this is where a good mental health strategy and toolkit can really show value at this time.”

While small business owners may see the benefits of a mental health strategy, many are also hesitant to invest in what they presume would be expensive initiatives. Patrice debunks this misconception by describing the ideal mental health approach as one that integrates simple practices into the day-to-day running of a business.

“Think about scheduling mini breaks during the day or providing your team with mental health resources. Keep the positives that have come out of this situation, like connection and flexibility. This will ultimately have a positive impact on your mental health and that of your staff.”

“You should also make sure to take care of yourself. It means maintaining a healthy lifestyle and setting boundaries between home and work. If you’re promoting a mentally healthy workplace and leading by example, this may help you retain staff, reduce absenteeism and improve productivity.”

Taking care of your team’s psychological wellbeing

An April survey by Relationships Australia found that up to 98% of respondents across every industry reported ‘significant changes’ to their work since the pandemic began. 63% of these respondents also experienced changes to their mental health in response to changes in their work life.

These changes included working from home, operating within new safety procedures on-site or working in an industry with extraordinary health and safety challenges like healthcare. In these circumstances, managing workplace-related psychological wellbeing can become a top priority.

When Australia Post committed to keeping most of its Post Offices, parcel facilities and delivery network operational during COVID-19, it moved quickly to allay its people’s health and safety concerns. Australia Post’s National Health and Wellbeing Manager, Fiona Andrew, says her team developed a psychological safety plan that was agile enough to pivot based on updates to national safety regulations.

Key elements of this plan included promoting the Employee/Workforce Assistance Program (EAP/WAP), developing resources to guide leaders in supporting their teams, and distributing messages of empathy, support and appreciation from frontline leaders in Australia Post’s delivery and contact centre networks.

“Our EAP/WAP has been a wonderful source of support for our workforce during this time. Many of us have reached out to this service in the last few months to manage COVID-related anxiety.”

“Our EAP/WAP provider also created a new manager-referred support program which provides weekly outbound call support to employees working from home, for whom the home environment may not be comfortable, social or safe.”

Giving space to the positive

A key part of every recovery process may be letting go of the past and focusing on the steps that will move you forward. This usually requires a mindset shift that often includes adopting a new perspective. And this, Patrice says, can spark fresh ideas.

“I’ve been part of many conversations around how so much innovation will come out of this pandemic. We’re already seeing so many business pivoting and people going into business for the first time. When thinking about COVID-19, we tend to think only about the negative impact. Giving some space to the positive can be refreshing.”

Beyond Blue’s guide to better mental health for small business owners

  1. Prioritise exercise, sleep and good meals. Enough movement, rest and nutritious food can do wonders for your mental health and wellbeing.
  2. Take time for self-care practices. Mindfulness is one practice that is gaining more credibility now. It can help you focus on the present and reduce any stress or anxiety over thoughts about the future. Choose a mindfulness app and make it a 5-minute habit every day.
  3. Focus on what’s going well in your business. Keep the changes that are having positive impacts especially where it involves communication and connection.
  4. Involve your team in developing a mental health toolkit so you understand what they need. This will also help remind you that you’re not alone in facing these challenges.
  5. Ask for support. Tap into your personal and professional support networks and resources. Beyond Blue has a Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service, which provides updated information, advice and strategies. It also offers 24/7 access to trained counsellors and a dedicated online community forum on coping during the coronavirus.

Need help building your mental health toolkit? Beyond Blue can help you get started with the following resources:

Mental health plan/toolkit for small business owners

Mental health plan/toolkit for your workplace

Actions for small business owners to improve their mental health and wellbeing

Supporting small business owners to improve their mental health and wellbeing at work

This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for your business needs.


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