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Two major causes for mental health issues in small businesses and how to tackle them

You know what’s one of the biggest myths about running a small business? That you’ll have more time to yourself and your family.

It sounds wonderful in theory - you can decide your own work timings, work from home whenever you want to, plan your day around school pick-up timings and manage all the other commitments you haven’t had the time for with your regular job. But if you’re running a small business, you know it rarely works out like that.

In practice, you’re putting in longer hours, working through weekends and postponing holiday plans with the family. In short, it’s a demanding lifestyle that can lead to stress and anxiety. Yet you don’t want to question it because it’s all going towards turning your dream into a reality.

But that’s not a good idea. In fact, research shows mental health conditions have a substantial impact on Australian workplaces - around $11 billion per year. This includes losses due to reduced productivity, absenteeism and compensation claim related to mental health conditions.

The grim numbers don’t have to mean that you give up. It just means that you need to deal with the problem at the right time.

Let’s start with identifying the TWO main causes for mental health issues for small business owners and how you can tackle each of them.

The problem: Dealing with cash flow.

When you’re a small business owner you’ve got to deal with all kinds of financial issues such as accounting, payroll, tax, personal and business debt and cash flow.

A survey by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) last year found that a lack of cash flow is a major reason leading to stress for small business owners. Half of the respondents said they skipped paying themselves a wage one or more times in the past year, owing to cash flow concerns.

The study also found that 32% of the business owners surveyed, dipped into their own accounts while 44% use credit cards as their primary tool to manage cash flow, working capital and business investment.

These are all red flags pointing towards a potential financial crisis in the future.

What’s more, the survey found that 44% of respondents think they do not spend enough time on personal wellbeing and development. This is interesting considering one in two claim looking after themselves is crucial to ensuring productivity.

The solution: Turn to technology and financial experts

In the same survey, Karen Last, general manager small business, Commonwealth Bank said: “A significant number of small businesses are reluctant to implement data analytics due to cost, or they believe it has limited value, or belongs in the ‘too-hard’ basket.”

As a small business owner, you need to recognise and use the benefits of new digital and analytic technologies. Managing finances doesn’t have to be as difficult once you have access to the right tools.

Fintech is offering opportunities for small business owners to access multiple funding channels. From peer-to-peer lending to crowdfunding and mobile payments, small businesses have a wide  range of options to choose from.

Technology can also help small businesses improve invoicing, customer relationship management as well as payment systems. Businesses can now access real-time data on their customers, which can provide crucial insight on consumer interests and needs.

Besides technology, it’s a good idea to engage experts to help you with your finances. When you’re too busy managing other parts of your business, your accountant and bookkeeper can make sure you’re not running behind on paperwork.

You need to understand that seeking help at the right time from the right sources can help avoid panic at the last moment.

For instance, if you’re having trouble meeting your tax and super obligations, you should contact the ATO as early as possible. They can help you find solutions in the form of a tailored payment plans or lodgment and payment deferral.

The problem: Long hours with too much work load.

It’s a common scenario - your days fill up with unending chores like running behind suppliers, following up on late payments and managing your employees. You barely have the time to look at the paperwork piling up on your desk. And you try to squeeze in one more task by skipping dinner with the family.

Thankfully, your family is extremely understanding and doesn’t make you feel guilty about sacrificing time with them. Yet, you can’t help feeling terrible when you get home and realise what you’re missing out on.

This is just one example from the innumerable times that small business owners fail to find the right work-life balance because of all the pressure they’re dealing with to keep the engine running. Unfortunately, it’s times like these that lead to feelings of guilt and isolation.   

The solution: Communicate your feelings to family and friends or seek professional help

Talk. It’s very important to communicate your feelings to your loved ones, your employees and even your stakeholders so they can understand and empathise with your circumstances.  

Secondly, no matter how many deadlines you’re chasing, always take out time for yourself. Make sure you sleep well and eat healthy meals EVERY day. Practice some form of exercise regularly.

Also read: Recognise stress symptoms and build your own mechanism to deal with it better.

Finally, it’s important to remember that some conversations aren’t easy to have with family and friends. Depression and anxiety are medical conditions and require medical attention from an expert. And that’s perfectly normal.

So if you or the people around you think you need professional support, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Here’s a list of some of the organisations that can help provide support with mental health:

a) The Beyondblue Support Service is available via phone (1300 22 4636), web chat (3pm-12am) and email. Their trained mental health professionals will listen, provide information and advice, and point you in the right direction so you can seek further support.

b) Lifeline Australia provides 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services. You can contact them on chat or call on 13 11 14 for support.

c) RUOK? is a not-for-profit organisation with free resources on how to talk to colleagues and employees about mental health issues.

d) SANE Australia has anonymous and moderated forums available 24 hours a day for those with a mental illness, plus a guide on how to help in a crisis. A mental health professional is available 9am-5pm on their helpline 1800 18 72 63 or via chat.

If you’ve dealt with mental health issues in the past, share your experience with us. Your story could help inspire others who are still struggling with the problem.

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