Virtually every small business owner is familiar with handling stress in the workplace. From financial concerns, multiple responsibilities, working long hours, and balancing work with family life, it can all take a toll on your mental health.
But with risk comes reward, which is why so many Americans still choose to run their own business, be their own boss, do something they love, and control their own schedule—despite the stress that might come with it.
Read on for an overview of recent mental health awareness initiatives, find resources for greater work-life balance, and get 10 tips to help manage stress at work—for you and your employees.
More Awareness: May is Mental Health Month
May is mental health awareness month in America, and as most small business owners can attest, they’re familiar with the stress, exhaustion, and mental strain that can come with running and growing their business.
Approximately one in five American adults experiences mental illness every year. Mental Health America, (MHA) the nation’s leading non-profit dedicated to promoting the mental health of all Americans, is focused on the betterment of the population at large, but it’s fair to say business owners experience stress at a higher rate than the average population.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, MHA offers a toolkit with a variety of materials, including fact sheets on how mental health is influenced by diet and nutrition, sleep, stress, and exercise, and worksheets designed to help employers and employees make life changes.
Stress and Small Business Ownership
While NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index shows small business owners are showing record-high optimism and confidence in the economy, research also shows that for most, running their business can be four times more stressful than raising children.
Owners and employees in larger businesses and corporations often have access to company support programs and a human resources department. Small business owners are more likely to deal with stress on their own, a challenge that can be amplified by managing employees.
It’s easy to see why. Small business owners face unique risks that include financial stress from unpredictable income, balancing multiple responsibilities, isolation and loneliness, long hours, lack of a boundary between work and personal life, business failure or stagnation, among many others.
These factors can quickly escalate to the point where they have a negative impact on mental health, and combined with less resources generally being available for small business owners, incidents can quickly become crises, and an unhappy, unhealthy work environment can hurt a business’ bottom line and negatively impact employee morale.
Tips to Improve Mental Health at Work and Promote Work-Life Balance
One of the keys to successfully running and growing a small business is being able to manage stress, because it’s an inevitable part of ownership. Here are 10 simple tips for small business owners to manage stress at work—for you and for staff—and promote mental health and well-being in the workplace.
1. Lean on Your Network: Look for support opportunities through business associations, local chambers, and groups your small business belongs to. This is a valuable way to create connections with other business owners, who are likely to understand what you’re going through, and could even share coping methods that work for them.
2. Look After Yourself: Getting enough exercise, rest, and eating well helps regulate mood, focus levels, and physical health, which all directly impact your mental health. Sure, it’s easier said than done, but when you’re busiest and most stressed, these factors are most important.
3. Take Breaks: The simplest—but arguably the most important—tip. When you’re used to
working endlessly, it becomes normal, but your mind and body will deteriorate, and you could burn out. If you’re not energized, motivated, and thinking clearly, you’re at risk of losing the focus needed to juggle the countless responsibilities that come with running your business.
4. Switch Off: Whether it’s during meals, weekends, family time, or for a specific period during the day, choose a time to disconnect, and stick to it. Technology might make business faster and easier, but it can also be tough to disconnect. Don’t feel like you have to be “always on,” and unless it’s a real emergency that requires immediate attention, take the time to disengage.
5. Write it Down: If you’re overwhelmed and stressed, your attention might naturally start to focus on everything that’s going wrong, instead of what’s going right. Prioritizing tasks—big and small—keeps your focus on one task at a time. Even if progress is gradual, it’s still progress. Be sure to list the things that are going well, milestones you’ve hit, and successes you’ve achieved.
For you and your employees:
6. Build Well-Being into Your Culture: From simply ensuring employees know you have an open door policy for communication, to more formal measures like offering unpaid leave for mental health crises, these changes can show employees you take their well-being (and your bottom line) seriously, while also boosting loyalty and retention.
7. Offer Flexible Working Arrangements: If possible, consider simple ways to accommodate employee work-life balance, like permitting time off in lieu, or flextime. Even slight changes that enable staff to determine some of their work hours instead of adhering to a traditional 9-to-5 schedule can pay off with a more focused, productive workforce.
8. Consider Insuring Wellness: Coverage for employee mental health can be expensive, but depending on your industry and employees, it could pay for itself by minimizing sick days and absences, and improving productivity and morale. It might be worth exploring ways to help employees with optional coverage for mental health.
9. Create an Employee Wellness Program: Some simpler, minor changes in the workplace can also make a big difference and increase awareness among staff. Try organizing a staff fitness activity, host walking meetings, bring in standing desks, offer longer lunch breaks for exercise, or stock the break room with healthy snacks.
10. Communicate: If you’re wondering what’s best for making sure employees are operating with low stress, good work-life balance, and maximum productivity, ask them! Whether in person or with a simple survey, engage them to find which approach or changes might make their situation better, and improve your bottom line.