Uncertainty driving mental health concern for small business
The COVID-19 pandemic and its wider economic impact is the key business-related cause of mental health challenges for Australia’s small business owners, according to a recent MYOB Business Monitor survey.
Speaking at the recent Small Business Recovery roundtable co-hosted by American Express and The Australian Financial Review, MYOB chief executive officer, Greg Ellis said running a small business is stressful and this had ratcheted up during the pandemic.
“It’s generally driven by uncertainty and constant change but also, it’s now managing your life from your living room,” Ellis said.
“For example, in Melbourne right now, we have people doing their work, managing their relationships and their kids [from their home] and all this is being done on top of what would be a normal busy life anyway.”
Fellow roundtable participant Corrina Davison, managing director of American Express Australia, agreed small business owners are under enormous strain and “more needs to be done to support the small business community in the area of mental health, especially when the future is so uncertain”.
Citing a recent American Express survey, Davison said one in three small business owners acknowledged “mental health advice and support” would be the most helpful type of assistance they could receive while COVID-19 remains a concern.
“And this is from a resilient bunch, with just over half more determined than ever to succeed off the back of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Davison said.
Owner of Bangalay Luxury Villas on the NSW South Coast, Michelle Bishop said: “There’s a lot of responsibility for us as employers to make sure everyone’s OK.”
While acknowledging she is resilient, the year had been mentally and physically exhausting, Bishop said. But despite the trials of the year – starting with the bushfires and then flooding and COVID-19 – only two people had asked whether she was OK: “And I’m responsible for 46 staff and all the people that come and stay here.”
Chief executive officer of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia (COSBOA), Peter Strong, suggested the resilience of small business owners was taken for granted; they have to bear the brunt of most mental health challenges alone while at the same time look after the mental wellbeing of their own staff.
MYOB’s Ellis noted that support was fragmented and while there are lots of “good organisations out there such as Beyond Blue and even our partnership with Smiling Mind, it needs to be consolidated”.
“On a brighter note, the corporate world is providing significant investment and effort in recognising that a healthy business, which means physical health, mental health, and the financial health of their customer base, means a sustainable business,” Ellis said.
Google Australia and New Zealand managing director, Melanie Silva told the roundtable the tech behemoth had seen a rising interest in mental health issues when they looked at search results early in the pandemic.
“We saw early signals that mental health, even things like domestic violence, were top of mind and they’re so closely connected to COVID,” Silva said.
Google immediately chose to provide support to people and launched “a little coping tab so when you search for COVID, one of the elements down the side helps put this issue of mental health front and centre”.
“It has really become a focus for all employers, large and small, about how they are helping to support and care for employees.”
For Davison, from American Express, the mental health story illustrates how important the human element is in business and that companies sometimes lose touch with that amidst discussions about the broader economic ramifications of the pandemic.
“We cannot ignore the human aspect of the crisis here and now and it’s not just a mental health topic – it’s making sure we understand there are people and individuals and families behind all of these small businesses.
“We need to make sure that we’re doing everything to stay connected and support others where we can, while we chart a path for the future.”
Australians urged to join global study of COVID-19 mental and physical health impacts
Australians are invited to participate in the world’s largest survey of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical and mental health, to generate new insights that can drive better health policies and investments. To take the survey go to https://www.coh-fit.com/.
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Source: Uncertainty driving mental health concern for small business. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.afr.com/companies/financial-services/uncertainty-driving-mental-health-concern-for-small-business-20200915-p55vxf