The mental health impact of the pandemic on small business owners
How has the pandemic impacted the mental and physical health of small business owners?
In one word, negatively. The pandemic has resulted in a doubling of depression in UK adults according to a recent ONS survey and I would expect to see the following generalised impact on small business owners:
- Increased stress levels as owners are required to pivot and work out how to stay in business
- Possible increases in anxiety as owners are concerned over the future of their business and the worry of the need to make staff redundant. This will be heightened as we approach the end of the Furlough scheme
- Risks of burnout as owner are pushing themselves to save their business resulting in compromises to wellbeing and focus on the things required to stay well (sleep; exercise; hobbies; connections)
- Diminished financial wellbeing as owners may have had to reduce income and are experiencing a level of stress around their financial future
- An increase in musculoskeletal challenges as owners who are working remotely are moving less and who might be in a home office environment that is not set up for safe and comfortable working
- The direct challenges of Covid itself and the impact of Long Covid (fatigue, headaches, ability to concentrate and many more)
On top of that, there has also been the acceleration of transformation programmes which only adds to the stress. Research from Firstsoure Solutions has shown that the stress of these transformation programmes can be as stressful as major life events such as moving house and organising a wedding according to 80% and 76% of business leaders respectively. Adding these pressures to the more generalised impact of COVID and it is going to be a particularly challenging time for small business owners.
What practical steps can small business owners take to improve their physical and mental health?
- Choose to prioritise physical and mental wellbeing in order to build resilience capacity.
- Focus on the pillar of wellbeing (Sleep; exercise; social connections; nutrition; stress management; sense of purpose; helping others; financial wellbeing) and identify where gains can be made.
- Start with some micro steps and make some small gains in relations to wellbeing.
- Don’t be afraid to speak out if you are struggling with your mental health right now. We all have mental health and we will all know what it is like to struggle as a result of the pandemic.
- Seek professional help from a doctor or trained mental health professional if you think you might be experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental health challenge. It is not weak to seek help, it is a sign of strength.
- Bring a structure into the working day where you schedule gaps between meetings; some time to take lunch and a buffer between home and work time to replicate the commute
- Take holidays when you can. Even if they are short.
- If you are worrying about your business and have difficulty sleeping, write down your worries prior to bedtime and give yourself permission to pick them up again in the morning.
- Make sure you spend some time outside each day.
- Remember to have fun.
Are there any useful tools all small business owners can use to track their physical and mental health?
There are many tools that can be used to track wellbeing with a plethora of “mood tracker” digital solution in the market.
FormScore is an innovative new method of tracking wellbeing, giving our ourselves a score out of ten each day and, importantly, facilitating connections and peer support.
Even just a few moments each day to ask how you are feeling will be very helpful right now.
Firstbeat is a very interesting tool for checking how we are balancing stress with recovery and exercise using something called Heart Rate Variability Analysis.
Activity trackers such as Fitbits and the Apple Watch are great for tracking physical metrics. There are also a number of interesting services that have the goal of facilitating behaviour change. LiveSmart is one good example of this where health metrics taken from blood test combined with a digital platform and coaching look to facilitate such positive behaviour change.
Finally, the future of wellbeing provision in organisations is likely to be cantered around personalisation and choice with a marketplace providing a range of verified solutions. BetterSpace is a start-up that is providing such a solution.
What are the warning signs small business owners should be aware of that their physical and mental health is deteriorating?
There are many factors that can show health is deteriorating depending on what the health condition is. For mental health it is behaviour change that is a sign:
- Increased irritability
- Difficulty sleeping
- Decision making more challenging
- Tasks feel more difficult
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
- Depleted energy levels
- Lack of motivation and feeling low
- Detachment in work and personal relationships
- Reduced productivity and performance
- An increased feeling of negativity or pessimism
- Difficulty concentrating
- A greater susceptibility to illness
- Lack of creativity
There are many other signs.
Has mass remote working had an impact (positive or negative) on the physical and mental health of small business employees?
For some it will have been positive as work life balance may have been improved and employees have had additional time to focus on relationships and hobbies. However, it very much depends on personal circumstances
“We are all facing the same storm but are in very different boats”.
Some will experience isolation and poor mental health due to the loss of social connections form the workplace; others will be experiencing increased stress due to poor homeworking conditions and lack of space if sharing accommodation; others will be impacted by juggling parenting with work.
On balance, I would suggest that mental health has declined for the majority, but some have thrived.
What does the future of mental and physical health look like in a post-COVID-19 business environment?
This depends on one’s level of optimism. My hope is that we will return to a more empathetic workplace whether a greater emphasis is given to health and mental health in particular. My belief is that the businesses that come through the pandemic in good shape will have looked after their people along the way. I also hope that in the future people will be more literate in how to care for their health and wellbeing and have the permission to do so by their employers.
For some this will be far from their truth but, on balance I believe that the world will ultimately be a healthier place after we are through the pandemic.
Rob Stephenson is a mental health campaigner passionate about inspiring the creation of mentally healthy workplaces and societies. He is the Founder of the InsideOut LeaderBoard and CEO of FormScore which is both a movement and an app that helps people connect around their mental health and support each other.
- Article originally published on www.formscore.today.
- Vector Stock illustrations