Mental health & small business


The mental health crisis in the UK today is becoming even clearer amid assurances from the Prime Minister that more will be done to support those with mental health conditions and announcements from the young Royals to end the culture of a ‘keep quiet and carry on’ attitude to mental health.

Among the working population, mental health issues are a major cause of sickness absence. Added to this, the impact of presenteeism as a result of mental ill health – where individuals are prepared to come into the workplace even though they’re not mentally fit for work – and the threat to performance and productivity in today’s organisations becomes even clearer.

And when you consider sickness absence and presenteeism in an SME workplace, the potential impact of mental health is even more concentrated. So what steps can you, as a small business owner, take to minimise the impact of mental health on your employees and your organisation?

Learn to recognise the signs of potential mental health issues

These signs might be an increase in unexplained absences or an employee calling in sick more frequently, a change in their personality – maybe they’re withdrawn or particularly snappy – or there may be a change in their performance or typical work-rate.

Remember that you are often well placed to know what is ‘usual behaviour’ for your employees so use this as a benchmark to assess whether you think there is an issue you may be able to help with.

Appreciate the factors that you can control 

As an employer you’re not in a position where you can control all elements of an employee’s life, influencing what happens in and out of the workplace, for example. But there are a number of things you can change or introduce to have a positive influence on employees’ mental health.

These include an individual’s workload, the type of work they’re being asked to do, the culture of the organisation and also ensuring that open and two-way communications take place wherever possible. Sometimes a temporary adjustment of work-load can make a big difference.

Actively promote health and wellbeing in your workplace

This might mean that you are proactive and set a good example of achieving a positive work / life balance or encouraging employees to take regular breaks from their work throughout the day.

Alongside this, you might raise employees’ awareness of services, such as employee assistance programmes, that are on hand to provide support and information, as well as counselling in some cases, for individuals who are struggling with any issue that is affecting their performance at work.

Be confident if you do need to take action

If you do need to support an employee who is struggling with their mental health, remember that you can signpost them to information or experts who can assist. And by creating a culture of open communication, any intervention that you do need to make to an employee who you think it struggling with their mental health is likely to be received more positively.

Accept it’s not something that’s going to go away

Ultimately you need to accept that mental health isn’t an issue that you’re going to ‘solve’ for your organisation or your employees. Many different factors can trigger a mental health issue and with one in four of us facing mental health problems at some point during our lifetime, it’s important that strong plans are put in place to support those who are suffering so that support is available and the negative impact that mental health has on your most valuable asset is minimised.