Mental health & wellbeing

Three ways to plan for taking a mental health break from your business – and how to return to work

Emma Koehn /

Many business owners know the importance of prioritising their own mental health, but taking the time to think about the practicalities of taking time away from work is a daunting prospect for many entrepreneurs.

This doesn’t have to be the case, say business groups, and the Victorian Small Business Commission (VSBC) has used National Mental Health Week to launch a mental health strategic plan that helps entrepreneurs create their own blueprint to ensure their businesses are taken care of if they ever need time out for mental health assistance.

“This strategic plan is about making planning for mental health as ‘normal’ as a marketing plan or financial plan,” the Commission’s senior dispute management officer Fiona Lawson explains. 

“It isn’t something that should be ignored or take a lower priority than other aspects of business planning.”

We really want businesses to use the document in whatever way is appropriate for them.” 

Here are three areas the plan recommends business owners prepare for.

1. Have a plan for if you are unable to work

Even though it might be very unlikely you ever need time away from your business to take care of your mental health, it’s important to take action now to ensure there’s a clear path if you ever do need this, says the Commission.

Whether just setting-up or having been established for some time, business owners really need to consider preventative measures to ensure that they are able to cope with, and build resilience for, the inevitable stresses and strains of running a small business,” Lawson says.

These preventative measures could include making sure someone else is trained to run the business if the owner is taking time away; that there’s a financial plan in place in the event of time out; and thinking about how you would explain an absence to clients and stakeholders, including asking them for support.

2. Have a plan for your return

One of the key parts of a mental health plan for your business is thinking about how things will work after you return from an absence.

This includes taking steps to ensure the return to work doesn’t do further harm to your mental health, with the Commission calling on businesses to come up with a blueprint that includes how you will track your wellbeing and how the situation will be communicated to other stakeholders.

“Can you talk to a mentor, business advisor or trusted colleague about identifying duties and your return to work timeline?” the blueprint document asks businesses.

“Who do you need to communicate your plan to? This may be employees, customers or suppliers.”

Lawson says it’s important business owners “consider who can help” upon an eventual return to work, and plan to engage with these upon return to work.

3. Open up the conversation

Australians are still reluctant to discuss mental health overall, says Lawson, and documents like the mental health strategic plan may also be an important starting point for recognising when employees might need time away from the business, Lawson says.

Businesses can also use this document as a means to start important conversations with their families, colleagues or staff.” 

“People often work closely together in a small business, so it’s important to create a workplace that respects the individual experiences,” the strategic plan suggests.

Earlier this week, small business mental health advocate Leanne Faulkner also discussed the importance of sharing mental health challenges to help alleviate the situation.

“When you connect with others and share your problem, you may be surprised how common your experience is,” she wrote in an article for SmartCompany

The VSBC plan also asks business owners to plan ways to identify mental health “red flags” in themselves and their staff, as well as planning a list of places to go for support if needed.

Businesses can download the blueprint to complete for their own businesses here.

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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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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