While the last 18 months has proven how resilient SMEs can be, with many businesses pivoting to combat an unpredictable pandemic, the state of high alert businesses have faced, coupled with ongoing uncertainty, has left many emotionally and physically spent.
Prior to the most recent lockdowns in NSW, ACT and Victoria, small business owners were already feeling the strain. In MYOB’s June 2021 Business monitor report, 52% of SMEs indicated that running their business in the last 12 months had caused them stress, up seven percentage points compared to the same time last year (45% in June 2020). 28% of respondents said COVID was the top cause of that stress.
As may be expected, some sectors have been feeling more pressure than others. Over two thirds of businesses in the retail and hospitality sector reported that running their business had caused them stress, while 57% had experienced anxiety and 45% said they had encountered feelings of depression.
Chief employee experience officer for MYOB, Helen Lea, says these findings speak to the state of play — and state of mind — for many small businesses in Australia.
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“Running a small business can be stressful at the best of times, let alone amid a pandemic. The amount of reshaping and replanning they’ve had to do has left many business owners tired — and staring down many factors that are out of their control.
“At the core of their concern is the reality that lockdowns have a material effect on their bottom line and we are seeing evidence of this playing out in our anonymised data. EFT deposits — a critical health indicator for customer-facing businesses — declined 40% in Victoria in the week preceding September 7 when compared to a pre-COVID baseline, demonstrating the direct impact of the pandemic on our SMEs,” says Lea.
Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson says that as Australia turns its thoughts to recovery, it is key small businesses know how to access the support tools available.
“Small businesses are bearing the load of many unique challenges we’ve encountered as a result of the COVID crisis. What is important now is that we can ensure they are match-fit for recovery, which includes making sure both they and their team have the emotional resilience they need to power ahead.
“There are tools available to help small businesses proactively prepare for this next phase, including resources to get on top of the day-to-day stresses and strains. Having a handle on how to manage stress when you’re problem-solving ways to improve cashflow can make all the difference to a person’s mental health,” he says.
While the pandemic will continue to throw Australia’s businesses curve balls, there are ways owners can support themselves and their employees with proactive management of mental health and wellbeing.
CEO of not-for-profit wellbeing organisation Smiling Mind, Dr Addie Wootten, is keen to remind small businesses that the best form of attack is defence when it comes to wellbeing.
“Strategies that prioritise proactive management of mental health are essential in making sure we don’t reach that point of overwhelm. That’s why mindfulness techniques are such an important tool. Allowing ourselves the time to develop the coping skills we need to be productive, creative and resilient people is the best way for us to meet the challenges of the pandemic head-on.
“Taking small moments out of our day to look after our mental health is just as important as looking after our physical wellbeing. Small businesses carry a lot: on behalf of the business, and the people they employ. The old adage that you can’t look after others if you don’t look after yourself has never been more true than in this situation,” she says.
Billson, Dr Wootten and Lea will be joined by Paris Thomson, founder and creative director of SIRAP in conversation on this important subject in the webcast Making mental health your business: Coping skills for resilient SMEs on October 27 at 11am AEDT. The session aims to provide SMEs with coping skills to manage stress for themselves and their employees.
In the lead up to the event, ASBFEO, MYOB and Smiling Mind have prepared a list of resources for proactive wellbeing management that are bespoke to the needs of SMEs.
Top proactive mental health management resources for SMEs:
ASBFEO My Business Health: A free portal containing information and resources for SMEs to assist them in proactively managing everyday worries.
Beyond Blue NewAccess for Small Business Owners: A free and confidential mental health coaching program available via phone and video. No doctor’s referral is required.
Smiling Mind x MYOB Small Business Program: Developed in partnership with MYOB, the Smiling Mind Small Business program features activities and resources to support business owners. Through mindful meditations, learn to manage stress, develop better relationships and build resilience.