Small business owners are not OK, and we need to address it at the cause

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An empty street in Sydney. Source: Unsplash/Luke White.

When you’re in lockdown, as so many of us are, it’s fair to say R U OK? Day hits a little differently.

For so many Australian small business owners, the answer is, well: ‘No, obviously not’.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll few of us would have predicted back in March 2020. Many businesses are running on fumes, racking up debts and desperately trying to keep their heads above water. There is nothing ‘OK’ about it.

Yes, we know some businesses have been well placed to survive, or even thrive, throughout the pandemic. But even those founders are trying to manage fast-growing teams remotely, or managing team members who are exhausted themselves.

They’re still learning as they go, often without the support networks they would usually rely on.

All of that is before you consider the many who have family overseas or who are homeschooling, or the isolation of those who may live alone.

And while there may be talk of borders reopening, we know the challenge for small business owners isn’t going to disappear overnight.

These are businesses that were built up with hard work and passion over many years. They will take years to rebuild, too.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. And as lockdowns drag and drag, that’s bound to take a toll on your mental wellbeing.

This is what the state and federal governments alike have largely failed to take into account.

Should they be doing more to acknowledge the mental health impact on business owners? Definitely.

Should there be more, specialised support available? Yep.

But such support addresses the symptom, not the cause. What is really necessary is more financial support — support that’s easier to access and available to more businesses. Support that actually covers the rent and the bills when there’s no money coming in.

Just as better social structures can help prevent stressors among the broader population, better business support structures can relieve some of the instability and uncertainty contributing to the daily struggles for business owners.

What they really need is some guarantee that when the world starts turning again, they will be able to back on their feet.

No business owner wants to be laying off staff members who rely on them, or counting the days before they’ll be forced to close for good.

Being in this position would take a toll on anyone’s mental health. These are not the kinds of decisions they should have to be making right now.

When your livelihood, and that of others, are on the line, and you have no control over it whatsoever, well, there comes a point where walking around the block and meditating for 15 minutes doesn’t quite cut it.

At SmartCompany today, we are still offering some advice on how to look after your staff at the moment, as well as how to start a conversation about mental health when you never have before. We’ve also reached out to 30 entrepreneurs to ask how they look after themselves.

It’s all there if you want it.

But, we also don’t mind if you switch off, walk away from your desktop and put your phone down. If you are struggling with your mental health, we know constantly reading about it might not be the most helpful thing.

If that’s the case though, please do reach out to a friend, a colleague or mentor, or even take that first step and call your GP to get a mental health plan.

It’s OK to need help. It’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to be angry. We’re sad and angry with you.

If you or someone you know is at risk of harm, call Lifeline now on: 13 11 14

You call also contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636; Headspace on 1800 650 890; or The Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

Or, contact Beyond Blue’s COVID-19 support line on 1800 512 348.

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