What does mental health at work look like as we enter some of the most stressful months of the year for small businesses?
Should we discuss mental health at work? Can we? What is preventing employees from accessing mental health support? A new survey tells all.
A new survey of UK small business owners has revealed the current state of mental health support available for workers across the country as we enter what is considered the ‘most stressful months’ for businesses in the year.
The survey from GoProposal asked 750 small business owners questions about what mental health support was in place in their businesses, with over half (55%) responding that they either have no support in place or that their employees do not use the existing services enough.
This could be due to a lack of awareness that support exists within the business or that employees are worried about bringing up mental health at work for the sake of their career implications.
Career implications are one of the biggest barriers to seeking support
Indeed, 40% of owners said that they believed one of the biggest barriers to their employees feeling comfortable about seeking help within the workplace was the fear of career implications. But additional elements were also acknowledged, and other barriers included:
- A heavy workload (38%)
- The feeling that there is no one appropriate to talk to (32%)
- Long working hours (29%)
All of the above were stated as reasons why mental health support was not sought out by employees.
November and December is the most stressful time for businesses
The study comes when business owners say it is their “most stressful period” for their employees, with 44% saying November and December are the worst months, followed by closely by January and February (33%).
Dr Chloe Mitchell, a BPS Chartered Counseling Psychologist, who spoke to GoProposal about the results of their research, explained why it is so important for business leaders to nurture a safe environment for people to discuss their mental health in the workplace:
‘There is no shame in discussing physical health in the workplace’
“There is no shame in discussing physical health in the workplace. We accept that when a person has a physical health issue they go to the Doctor for guidance, prognosis and treatment. The same does not apply to mental health conditions and leaders need to lead the way to normalise mental health issues.
“A lot of it is about holding space in the workplace that allows for vulnerable emotions to be seen as human, for conversations about stress, depression, anxiety and grief to be completely normalised and not seen as signs of loss of talent, or performance. Leaders need to deepen their understanding of mental health and see it as a subjective measure of happiness and wellbeing. To ignore it leads to greater distress and causes deterioration.”
What can businesses do to improve mental health at work?
According to the study by GoProposal, those businesses with mental health support in place saw improvements in performance and productivity as a result.
An impressive 92% of business leaders said they noticed a positive improvement due to their measures, with 43% saying they saw an immediate impact, 40% saying it took up to six months to see changes and 9% saying it took a year. Just 6% said they saw no improvements, but they did say they were expecting to see changes soon.
Dr Chloe Mitchell continued: “All the research shows that prevention through empathy, compassion and awareness is possible. Conversations that show active listening and put human beings first will shift the culture to openness and acceptance. When people feel they have the support of their colleagues and employers, they can be open, they can be signposted to professional services and positive action for recovery can be taken.
‘Simple things like running webinars, bringing teams together to share, reaching out to colleagues’
“Simple things like running webinars, bringing teams together to share, reaching out to colleagues who are showing signs of mental ill health and having information and skills to listen with empathy and compassion are crucial.”
Business leaders themselves struggle with poor mental health at work
Stress and burnout impact employers and employees. In the survey, business leaders themselves also noted negative impacts on their own mental health as a result of overworking to ensure that their business remains successful.
Home and work life blurred into one
The research revealed that 54% had worked long and late hours to keep their business on track and running to a good standard, and 51% have lost sleep due to stress. 48% also admitted to overstretching themselves by taking on roles in the business they aren’t even qualified for, and 47% said that, as a result, their home and work life were often blurred into one.
You have to be able to say: ‘I need help’
James Ashford, Vice President of GoProposal, explained how his own experience was similar to this as a business leader. He strongly believes that reaching out to ask for help is crucial for those struggling with their mental health at work:
“You have to be able to say: ‘I need help.’ Outwardly I’m seen as a successful, confident, entrepreneur. But no one other than my wife saw the times when I was on the floor, on my hands and knees, with my head in my hands, in tears. Thankfully those moments were few, but when they happened I reached out to those closest to me and simply said… ‘I need help.’ And help came.”
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