Don’t carry on regardless

19 May 2016

For a small business, having a mental wellbeing strategy in place can be vital, writes Jenny Leeser, Bupa Clinical Director Wellbeing and Health Promotion.

There is something about the nature of small businesses that means they don’t always have the infrastructure or the policies available to help manage situations, such as the mental health and wellbeing of staff. Unlike a large business, companies that employ a handful of staff can often struggle to find the time or the resources to offer their employees extra care. But that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. In fact, doing something about it today could help in months and years ahead.

Be aware

The danger points for work-related stress and anxiety are generally the same throughout businesses – regardless of size. For anyone, an excess of demands over ability to cope can provoke feelings of stress. But problems and their impact can be amplified because of the close nature of a small team.

There are some pointers for small business owners:

  • While it is important to be friendly, remember to make sure that there is a clear boundary in your relationship with your employees – sometimes as an employer you may have to take action that doesn’t feel particularly friendly and that can be very stressful all round if the employee is also a close friend.
  • Likewise, it is important to be clear about job requirements and specifying tasks. As the owner of your own business, you are more likely to be devoted to your work and very keen to make it all happen, whereas your employees might treat it more like a job than a way of life. Bear this in mind as it could potentially lead to tension.

Promoting health and wellbeing within your business

On a positive note, as an employer, you have more control than managers in some larger businesses. You can act more quickly and may have more flexibility around temporarily adjusted hours, for example to help someone stay at work while handling a personal issue.

It is key to promote positive beliefs and attitudes within your business – making sure that your actions and the way you behave impact favorably on the team. Not only does it help to set the tone and culture of the organisation, helping employees stay well at work, but it will also make employees feel more comfortable about approaching senior members of staff to raise, and find solutions to, issues that are causing them stress.

By acknowledging and resolving problems when they first appear, in my experience you are more likely to be left with a happy, healthy workforce who will take limited time off as a result of illness – an important factor for most small businesses.

And don’t forget to practise what you preach. You aren’t immune from stress and it’s important to monitor your own health, as well as your staff’s. Ultimately, when it comes to mental health, the bottom line is not to plough on regardless. Look to resolve problems when they first appear or better still take preventative action. Find out how to tackle work related stress.

Dr Jenny Leeser is a Bupa occupational health physician with experience in mental health at work.

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