Mental Health Awareness Week 2024


It’s shocking but not surprising. More than half of small business owners in the UK experience poor mental health.

If you’ve ever run your own business, you’ll know that even in the good times it’s challenging, the risk and worry are all yours and it’s isolating. All the ingredients are there for poor mental health even without pandemics, inflation, interest rate rises, skills and labour shortages and reduced margins.

The figures from Simply Business last year showed more than half small business owners experienced mental health issues over the previous 12 months. Mental Health UK found four fifths of small business owners experience common symptoms of poor mental health at least a few times a year. Eight out of ten reported symptoms of poor mental health with more women than men affected and only 4 in 10 had looked for support. Business owners report inability to focus (66%), anxiety (64%) and disrupted sleep (63%). Almost a quarter have panic attacks and more than a third experience symptoms of depression.

Four in ten put this down to the impact of financial worries but there are a host of other contributing factors. Small business owners don’t take time off when they’re struggling. They have to keep the show on the road, hit deadlines, deliver goods and services and often there’s no one to step in to help. They work longer hours than employees and take less time off for holidays. Add to that sleeplessness due to worry about all the above-mentioned factors and you have the perfect recipe for anxiety, depression, burn out and loneliness. Despite this, half don’t feel comfortable disclosing poor mental health as a reason for time off or for delaying deadlines.

I am convinced that waiting for money to come into a business account is one of the financial worries most likely to cause stress. Small businesses flourish when they have confidence, and to have confidence they need certainty. Facing problems caused by overdue invoices or waiting long periods for payments undermines certainty and confidence drains away. Time spent chasing unpaid invoices eats into productivity and increases the worry about how to manage the cashflow and pay the bills. Worrying about money leads to sleepless nights and lack of sleep causes all the issues discussed already.

We can reduce mental health problems for small business owners by treating them with respect, as valued business partners, as part of the team, and paying them fairly and on time. Agree fair payment terms. 120 days is rarely a fair payment period even if both parties have agreed to it. When I say ‘agree’ fair payment terms I mean negotiate, understand the needs of supplier and customer and agree terms that work for both, rather than the bigger customer impose terms because of the power imbalance. Don’t offer to pay in 120 days (I’ve seen 365 days) on a take it or leave it basis. That’s not fair. Nor is it good for business. If the small supplier goes bust because of mental health issues, that failure could be your failure. If you lose suppliers because you haven’t treated them fairly the consequences for you could be detrimental if not catastrophic. Pay quick and fair and #EveryoneBenefits.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is Movement. Movement is good for improving mental health and most of us to need to get up and move around more. I want to see another movement too. The Movement for Fair Payments. That will help improve the mental health of small business owners too.

Mental health resources for the self-employed

Simply Business partners with Mental Health at Work, a programme curated by Mind, to launch their new Mind Your Business initiative. Acting as a toolkit and resource hub, small business owners will be able to access expert articles and guides to better manage their mental health in the workspace.

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