Mental health, its symptoms, its causes, and its ‘treatments’ are, rightly, the focus of much attention and consideration in modern society. Sadly though, post-pandemic, more and more people are struggling with aspects of their mental health. Unfortunately, that’s come just as support services are at their most stretched and difficult to access.
And, businesses - and business leaders - are not immune.
After what’s been a uniquely difficult period for businesses, and their owners and directors, it’s crucial that mental health and wellbeing becomes a fundamental focus for employers moving forward. Both in terms of themselves and their employees. After all, the impact that a business’s culture, personnel, and working conditions can have on an individual’s mental health (and their performance at work) is infinite.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of the key stats and trends relating to mental health in business. We'll also hear first-hand about the impact it can have on companies and the individuals behind them.
1. Mental Health in Business: The Stats
According to recent statistics from the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), almost 1 in 7 people experience mental health problems in the workplace. And, women working full-time are almost twice as likely to suffer from ‘common’ mental health problems as their male counterparts.
The government’s official figures suggest that, in 2020/21, there were ‘over 820,000 people in the UK suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety’.
‘Work-related stress, depression or anxiety’ is a ‘harmful reaction to undue pressures and demands placed on people at work’. It accounted for half of all ill health cases over the course of that year. However, the vast majority of those suffering will actually use a different reason for their absence if they call in sick.
Amongst the most common reasons cited by respondents to an official study into this subject were ‘tight deadlines’ and ‘too much responsibility’. Two factors most business owners and entrepreneurs can relate to. And that’s before considering the impact of Covid-19.
Incidentally, the government’s 2021 report into this issue estimates that, for more than half of all those suffering from work-related mental health problems, the pandemic had either caused their problems or made them worse.
2. The Impact of Mental Health Problems on UK Business Leaders
Unsurprisingly, ‘managers, directors and senior officials’ rank amongst those groups’ worst affected by mental health problems in the workplace.
Research from Mental Health UK and small business lenders, iwoca, found that a staggering ‘80% of the UK’s small business owners had experienced common symptoms of poor mental health’. Once again, the pandemic appears to have made the situation worse, increasing the frequency of panic attacks and bouts of depression.
Furthermore, nearly 80% of small business owners expressed that they’d worried about cash flow since the pandemic began. What’s more, the figures for those able to access professional mental health support make for further concerning reading. Almost half of those surveyed had never accessed mental health support, with many simply unaware that help was even available. It’s pretty shocking stuff. And, it’s costly too. Both in terms of the obvious health implications, but also in financial terms.
According to figures from the government-commissioned ‘Thriving at Work’ report - and shared by mental health support app ‘My Possible Health’ - poor employee mental health costs UK employers upwards of £40 billion a year. That equates to around £1,300 per employee! And, as these statistics were actually collated before the pandemic, it’s safe to assume that figure has risen since.
All this has led to suggestions that preventative mental health programmes would provide good returns for businesses and the economy as a whole, estimating a saving of around £2.37 for every £1 spent. More broadly, the MHF argues that ‘better mental health support in the workplace could, in fact, save UK businesses as much as £8 billion each year’.
3. Mental Health in Business: Managing Stress & Anxiety
So, what impact does all this have in practice? Helen Broughton MBE DL is the co-Founder and CEO of the Danbro Group. She’s kindly offered to share her insight into her mechanisms for managing mental health in business. Both in terms of herself and the employees she leads. First though, what advice does Helen have for other business leaders who may be struggling with stress or anxiety whilst running a successful business, and how does she handle this herself?
“I feel fortunate to have a faith that anchors me and provides a framework for my life. That said, I still do a number of other things to keep myself well. For instance, since taking over as Danbro Group MD, I’ve been seeing a counsellor. I tend to see them once a week and it helps me unpack things. It’s been super helpful for me to have a safe place to vent and work through the things that are bothering me.”
“I’m also a member of a great business network too. There are more than a dozen of us who spend a day together every month. Built into that is half a day of learning. So, we learn from a guest speaker and then we unpack each other’s problems together. If someone’s got a pressing problem that particular month, they’re given some air time in the afternoon. We then try and help that person get their head around the issue at hand, and give them tangible takeaways to go back to their business with. We all operate at the same level too which is really useful. MDs and CEOs of reasonable-sized businesses. This is something I’ve done for a while now and it’s been a fantastic source of support.”
“I’ve made some very good friends and it’s reassuring to know that I can pick up the phone or send an email and somebody within that framework will know something, or have some resource, or have a contact that can help. They’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs.”
“So, those are just a couple of the things I’d recommend. Try and access professional support and don’t be afraid to talk. Don’t be afraid to share your weaknesses. And, of course, it’s always important to have a network of great people around you who love you and want the best for you. You can’t put a price on that.”
4. Looking After Your Employees’ Mental Health in Business
What about employees though? As an employer and a leader of people, it’s important that you’re attuned to the health and wellbeing, mental and/or physical, of the individuals who make up your organisation. But, driving the performance of your business and demanding high standards from your staff whilst simultaneously making provisions for their mental wellbeing can be a difficult balance to strike. Particularly for larger-scale businesses. Here’s Helen’s take on dealing with that.
“When it comes to employees and helping them with any stresses, anxieties, or personal problems, it can be really hard. In fact, the times I struggle most are definitely when I see other people suffering,” she says.
“The reality, though, is that you can’t control other peoples’ feelings. You can only do what you can do. That’s why we, as a company, have invested in ‘listening’, ‘feedback’, and ‘self-awareness’ training, which builds resilience and has helped people to manage themselves more effectively, both for their own benefit and their team and the business at large.”
“As a business leader, people need to know that they can come to you with any problems or concerns and that you’re not going to lose perspective or ‘flip your lid’ on any given issue. It’s so important that a leader never comes across as defeated or hopeless. After all, there is always something that can be done.”
“Consistency is key too. To be a great leader, you need to be consistent, which is something I’m always working on. As I’ve grown in experience over the years, I’ve realised that being real is far more important than being aimlessly positive, optimistic, or indeed negative. People need to know that you get it.”
“I have a huge amount of compassion and sympathy for people who struggle with things like anxiety and stress. I know how completely debilitating it can be. I grew up with a mum who struggled with depression,” Helen bravely shares.
As we mentioned earlier, leading large groups of people and making big decisions has a direct effect on people’s mental health symptoms. So, is there a way to square that circle as a business leader? To better cope with that pressure? Well, to Helen, it all comes down to perception.
“The way I see it, it’s a privilege. Yes, I might have 150 people who look towards me to lead them in times of difficulty or hardship. That brings with it additional pressure. But, whenever I have a problem, I actually have 150 capable people, 150 brilliant minds, who can help me resolve it. How wonderful is that?”
5. Getting the Help & Support You Need
In what is, to coin a rather overused phrase, an ‘unprecedented’ period for small business owners, it’s crucial that our nation’s business leaders are able to access the support they need. The support they deserve.
As Helen recommends, if you’re struggling psychologically as a start-up or small business owner (or anyone else, for that matter), ‘talk to someone’.
“As with anything, the worst thing you can do is keep it to yourself,” she continues. “If you’re suffering as a result of poor mental health, it’s imperative that you find somebody to talk to. If possible, make it a professional. Talking to family is essential too, of course. But, be mindful that they’re sometimes too close to help you objectively - especially with business-related problems. As a business leader, you need to find people who will tell you the truth - in good times and bad. Rather than just wanting to make you feel better or telling you what you want to hear.”
To that end, it’s encouraging to see the partnership between the aforementioned iwoca and Mental Health UK in developing mental health support that’s tailored specifically to small business owners. According to their website, they intend to ‘explore how being a small business owner impacts your mental wellbeing’ and will ‘provide all small business owners with practical tools and access to support networks and trained mental health specialists’. To register your interest, click here.
Sam Wright is Danbro’s Marketing Manager. He produces regular content and feature articles on our digital and non-digital channels – and social platforms – for the Danbro Group and its subsidiaries, as well as having responsibility for the Company’s internal and external communications.
His background is in Journalism and Creative Writing, having previously contributed to publications such as The Daily Post, The Lancashire Evening Post, and The Blackpool Gazette.
He is a keen swimmer and avid Manchester United fan (but don’t hold that against him), and he lives in Lancashire with his wife, Sarah.