Working long hours, stress and financial pressure are taking an increasing toll on the mental health of small and medium-sized business owners and managers.
New research from small business accounting firm MYOB has found more than a third of New Zealand SME owners and decision-makers have experienced a mental health condition since starting or taking over their current business.
Despite this, just 28 per cent of all SMEs polled said they had discussed mental wellbeing in the workplace – 72 per cent had not.
Some experiences increased over the last year amid Covid-19 lockdowns, the 2021 Business Monitor report showed.
It's a situation Olivia Storm, founder of The Smile Initiative, knows first hand.
Storm said she put in more than 100 hours of work a week when she started her not-for-profit business two years ago while working as a psychiatric registrar at the Counties Manukau Health.
It was important for people to be aware of so they can manage their stress better, she said.
"A lot of people identify the business as an extension of themselves, and really struggle to step away from it. So I think taking time out of business and having periods of time where they can reconnect to themselves, is quite important," Storm said.
"We all know what's good for us ... what keeps us well, good sleep, good food, getting out in nature, exercising, and socially connecting with others."
It was "extremely important, [yet] unfortunately, self-care isn't the vocabulary of the majority of our SME owners," she said.
MYOB senior sales manager Krissy Sadler-Bridge said business owners were working too hard and it didn't take long for pressure and strain to build up.
"Our SMEs are incredibly hard-working – there's a good reason why they are often referred to as the backbone of our economy.
"But the challenges of running a business, coupled with Covid-19, has been pushing some businesses to their limits, testing their employees and resources," Sadler-Bridge said.
Fear of failure was also contributing factor which worsens their mental health.
"For many business owners, failure is viewed in a negative light and there's often a feeling they'll be letting others down if they don't do well," she said.
"This, in turn, puts huge pressure on business owners to just keep going, get their head down and do everything possible to succeed.
"However, taking this approach can have huge consequences on a person's mental health. This is why we need to continue to reshape the conversation so that what someone deems a 'failure', is instead seen as a growth or learning experience," Sadler-Bridge said.
MYOB's research revealed that 36 per cent of SME owners and managers have experienced a mental health condition since starting or taking over their current business.
Of those affected entrepreneurs, 76 per cent said they had been stressed, 64 per cent said anxiety and 43 per cent said they had depression.
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said as a small business owner, everything that happens in your business is your responsibility and Covid-19 hasn't helped.
"When you are a small business you are playing all roles - the accountant, the head chef, the HR department, and the starting and endpoint for all decisions made regarding the business which can lead to enormous amounts of pressure on you."
"Covid-19 has been particularly hard on restaurants. As well as staff shortages, even the relatively short shutdown period was a big blow to the industry and it will take a long time to claw back that lost revenue," Bidois said.
In order to help the affected SME owners, the Restaurant Association has partnered with the Mental Health Foundation and they hold events throughout the year, including giving out guidelines and practical tools.
"As well as the pressure they are under themselves, restaurant owners are now being asked to take responsibility for the mental wellbeing of their teams. That is where the association comes in - we have resources for their teams to help them to manage this. We partner with the Mental Health Foundation and have run awareness seminars and training sessions over the years," Bidois said.
"In terms of practical tools, we have guidelines around wellness within the workplace and also individual wellness for the employer."
"We are also able to link them up practically with tools like our HospoStart programme which can help fill the vacancies that are putting pressure on the owners."
"There is also a mentoring service, using experienced professionals who are out of the industry but can give excellent advice and keep in touch with businesses."
The association works closely with suicide prevention charity RU OK? and provides access to Clearhead - a cloud-based platform that establishes through a series of questions where that individual's headspace is at the time and can provide suggestions.
The high number of people using the platform has marked as an indication of its success, she said.
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else are at risk, call 111.