New research reports soaring stress levels among UK’s small businesses

workplace stress

New research has found that high-street decline, a heavy workload and Brexit uncertainty are increasing strain on SMB owner’s mental health.

Despite workplace mental health being high on the news agenda, almost a third of small business owners admit they are too busy to think about supporting mental health in the workplace and almost half believe that they could be doing more.

The study of small business owners, conducted by accounting software provider Xero, found that more than 8 in 10 have experienced stress in the past six months, with almost half saying they have been more stressed than normal and 17 per cent admitting they are ‘highly stressed’.

One in 10 admitted the stresses of running a business resulted in a negative impact on their mental health; causing sleepless nights, drinking more alcohol and arguments at home.

SMB owners said the main causes of business stress are: managing staff, admin, feeling personally responsible for the success of the company and filing taxes. One in ten felt vulnerable to economic conditions and one in four admitted feeling stressed by compliance.

When looking at how stress is affecting the lives of small business owners, respondents to the survey said they forgo social events, binge on junk food and stop exercising.

But despite the high level of stress that comes with owning and managing a business, the parts that SMB owners most enjoy were revealed as: being their own boss and being able to improve work/life balance followed by being able to get things done the way they want them to.

Furthermore, small businesses were recognised to be more adaptable in the face of potentially-stressful changes to the small businesses economy, with 29 per cent of those surveyed saying they felt their small business could certainly adapt to a post-Brexit landscape, and almost 4 in 10 saying it is likely they will.

When asked about the offering of mental health support to their employees, 1 in 4 SME owners believe there is excellent health support at their workplace, yet almost half thought mental health support could be more available or better communicated. When asked what their business provided to support employee wellbeing, the most popular offering is allowing office pets, followed by offering support in workload management and offering digital wellbeing tools such as Unmind, Headspace or Calm. Other popular methods included a focus on improving the office environment, such as having plants and ensuring there is enough natural light.

The research by Xero coincides with the launch of Business is Personal, a new book on mental wellbeing in the workplace by business wellbeing expert Penny Power OBE.

Penny Power OBE said: “I learned first-hand that mental health is as critical as physical health. The process I went through of self-awareness was fundamental to my personal wellbeing and success. Business people focus on their skills and building a network, but very few understand their own vulnerabilities. We all have to deal with challenges and modern living that can be overwhelming but learning to self-care and learning how to manage our minds can be the difference between living a happy and successful life, or not.”

Anne Allen, Director of People Experience at Xero said: “Running a small business effectively in testing times is about doing the small things well; streamlining administration and tax compliance, and using technology to simplify business management. Our study shows SMBs do feel the pressure of changing times, but work environments with the right technical, emotional and personal support can ease the strain.”