Why small-business owners should invest in mental health at work

Running a small business can be as rewarding as it is challenging, giving small-business owners and leaders highs and lows.

But there is something else we must consider when business is going well or needs some problem solving, and that’s how well business owners are taking care of mental health and wellbeing for themselves and their people.

As CEO of Diversity Council Australia, working with businesses across Australia to make them more inclusive, I know that no matter how big or small an organisation, it is the people within a business that matter most.

Providing a safe workplace is about ensuring every member of our workforce feels respected and valued and has the support to enable them to balance their roles with their personal lives and talk openly about their mental health.

It’s a common assumption that poor mental health results from personal issues rather than work issues, but our research tells us this is not always the case.

DCA report finds many employees do not discuss poor mental health at work

Our Mapping the State of Inclusion and Mental Health in the Australian Workforce report found that four in every ten Australian workers who reported poor mental health in the past year didn’t discuss it at work. Those who did were twice as likely to report experiencing discrimination or harassment or both.

Our research found almost as many Australian workers told us that their workplace had a very negative or negative (31 per cent) impact on their mental health as those who felt work had a very positive or positive impact (32 per cent).

So, why do these findings matter for small businesses? Because the challenges of running a small business are unique and can impact mental health, and also have negative consequences on staff and operations.

Providing a mentally safe workplace and supporting our workforces to stay mentally and physically healthy so that they can manage their health are hugely important because they directly impact the viability of a small business and the wellbeing of the people we employ.

I know from working in a small business that small-business owners often have less time and resources to invest in building their own skills to lead mentally healthy workplaces.

Small-business owners relying in instincts

Small-business owners and leaders must often rely on their instincts to manage issues as they arise.

But I would urge these leaders to make an investment in themselves and their own skills and have policies in place that take a preventative approach to mental health at work.

A body of research also shows that talking about mental health at work can lead to better understanding and access to support.

It is up to business leaders to create a space where employees at all levels of a business feel that their workplace positively impacts their mental health.

Our Inclusion@Work Index mental health report goes beyond good intentions and pairs them with practical recommendations that small-business owners can use to take the initiative to build mentally healthy workplaces:

Step 1 – Build inclusion: Our research findings show inclusive teams, leaders and workplace cultures are linked to better mental health at work.

Step 2 – Address obvious and subtle exclusion: Discrimination and harassment can affect our mental health at work, but our research shows that so do more subtle forms of exclusion, like being left out of social gatherings.

Step 3 – Make it safe to talk about mental health at work: Talking openly and honestly about it helps the people around us better understand mental health challenges and how to access support.

Step 4 – Recognise seniority makes a difference: Small-business owners and leaders can create mentally healthy workplaces by speaking out about mental health at work and reducing stigma.


This piece was originally published by Inside Small Business.