The COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on mental health for everyone – including small businesses. Before the crisis, the mental health of entrepreneurs was a neglected topic that some had just started to address, including us. In 2016 I started speaking about Mental Health for Entrepreneurs.
But now, we must face this subject in an honest, practical and positive way.
The State We’re In
A survey of small business owners conducted towards the end of 2020 showed some alarming statistics. Of those surveyed, 48% said COVID-19 has had a severe impact on their business, while 35% said it had a major impact. The biggest cause for concern right now is figuring out how to adapt their small business to the crisis (27%). Others pointed to the problems of stress over supporting employees, confusion around the assistance available and the difficulties of running a business from home. And, while 71% of entrepreneurs admitted to experiencing workplace stress, only 25% sought professional help.
As well as the mental impact on the owners of small business, their employees are also experiencing a negative impact. Another survey showed that 32% of professionals working in small businesses were anxious about their own mental health. Many were also worried about the health of their loved ones (39%), their personal finances (38%) and the chance that they might contract COVID-19 in the workplace (32%).
There are many such surveys. But instead of focusing on the negative, let’s also look two positive ways small business owners and self-employed people can build mental resilience
Connect and Disconnect!
Perhaps one of the greatest mental health risks flows from one of the government’s safety measures – self-isolation as a result of lockdown laws and guidance or following exposure to someone with the virus. The way to counter this is by connecting. With who? And, how? One option is by connecting with colleagues, with other businesses, with those who can help (from business advisors to counselling services) – via scheduled online calls and meetings. Networks have never been more important. Also, connect with nature, your body, your friends and family as much as possible within the guidelines, never mind the weather. (Heard of the Swedish saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”? It’s applicable in NI too!)
But there’s a flip side to this. As small businesses shift in location from offices to homes, it has become very difficult to disconnect from work, and to distinguish work space from personal space in order to give your mental health time to recover. You can counter this by disconnecting your work schedule from your leisure time, business platforms from entertainment platforms, your brain from bad news, and your body from your desk. Create and abide by work-life boundaries – without mercy!
Crisis = Danger/Opportunity
Perhaps the most optimistic way small business owners can deal with COVID-19 stresses and strictures is to find a way to turn them to our advantage. For one thing, small businesses are best placed to manage post-COVID mental health. Because of closer relationships with their employees, smaller firms are in an ideal place to spot a worker who’s struggling with mental health issues and to respond rapidly in a personal, customised way. They mightn’t have the HR resources that corporations or the public sector enjoy. But a one-size-fits-all method won’t work for individual negatively affected by unfamiliar, changing and uncertain working environments.
More than this, small businesses have an ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances that large organisations can only envy. Many small businesses are using the crisis creatively, as an opportunity to start or grow the eCommerce or online side of their enterprise (I’m thinking of my local café turned pizza joint). Others are using the necessity for remote working to hire and work with the best talent internationally. This shift away from physical location restrictions can only benefit them in the longer term.
Small Business Mental Health is Priority No 1
How are you making the best of this unusual set of circumstances? Have you adapted your business to suit? Have you put in any additional measures to make sure your employees know they have additional support as they adapt and grow in this new environment? Let us know in a comment.