Victoria launches mental health guidelines for SME owners to fight “mental strain” of running a business


The Victorian Small Business Commissioner has put the spotlight on the mental health of SME operators given the “enormous pressure” and isolation they often face.

A fact sheet is available on the commissioner’s website includes best practice tips for creating a “mentally healthy small business”, with advice to prevent mental health issues in both business owners and employees.

The fact sheet lays out a number of “red flags” SME owners should watch out for, including regular feelings of anxiety or sadness, feeling overwhelmed, or an inability to sleep properly.

If business owners are experiencing any of these signs, the Victorian Small Business Commissioner (VSBC) outlines a series of steps to take, as well as help that’s available.

“With good support it’s possible to overcome them and continue to operate your small business,” the materials explain.

Taking steps like talking to a trusted friend or a counsellor, regularly exercising or meditating can help SME owners take care of their mental health, says the VSBC.

Commissioner Judy O’Connell believes the initiative will help small business owners to recognise if they or their employees need help.

“Small business owners are often under enormous pressure and mental strain and that pressure can be exacerbated by the feeling of responsibility towards their staff, coupled with a sense of isolation,” O’Connell said in a statement.

“We have developed this resource to assist small business owners to recognise if they need help and also where to find it.”

Council of Small Business Australia’s Mental Health Ambassador Leanne Faulkner told SmartCompany this morning the fact sheet was a “great step for small business in Victoria”.

Faulkner helped put together the campaign in conjunction with the VSBC and says the guidelines are just the first step in a series of mental-health focused initiatives.

“In the next couple of months you’re going to see a lot more in the mental health space from the VSBC,” she says.

“We’re looking at implementing practical tools for business owners to use and integrate into their business to help keep mental health in mind.”

Implementable mental health strategies on the way

Part of these plans include a template of mental health strategies for SMEs, which can be incorporated into business development plans.

“If small business owners have contingency plans in place, if they do become unwell or need extended time away from their business, then these strategies will help ensure the continuing success of their operations,” O’Connell said in a statement.

Faulkner began the process of putting together the initiative towards the end of 2016 when O’Connell was appointed. O’Connell had previously held a role as the assistant commissioner for small business at the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

“[O’Connell] was quite passionate about helping small business owners with mental health issues when she was at the ATO, and I had done quite a bit of work with the ATO around mental health issues,” Faulkner said.

“We both recognise the importance of mental health in the small business community and wanted to look at how to address it.”

The Victorian government’s approach to small business is “really proactive” says Faulkner, who hopes to see other states follow the VSBC’s lead. She would also like to see more attention put on SME owners’ mental health by the big end of town, and government bodies like ASIC.

Previously, Faulkner has called for ASIC to keep SME owners’ mental health in mind when formulating policies, and accused the commission of not having the issue “on the agenda”.

“I’m hoping this will prompt ASIC to stop and look at what they’re doing, and think ‘maybe we need to be reaching out to our small business customers too’,” she says.

“The big end of town also needs to be looking at this, they need to be a good role model and start reaching out and helping SMEs.”

“Anyone who puts out tools or provides services for SMEs in some way has a responsibility to provide support for mental health issues.”

If you or someone you know is living with mental health issues, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

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