For many small and medium enterprise (SME) owners, running a business isn’t just a job but an integral part of who they are. The boundaries between personal and business life often blur, meaning that the health of their businesses is inextricably tied to their personal, emotional, and mental well-being. This means that the many unique challenges facing these business owners can have a profound impact on their mental health.
This isn’t just a South African issue – it’s a challenge for SME owners worldwide. A recent report by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) suggests that nearly half of Canadian entrepreneurs are grappling with mental health challenges. Research done by the Australian Treasury during the pandemic showed that the challenges business experienced at the time resulted in 22% of their owners being diagnosed with a mental health condition.
For South African SME owners, the operating environment is arguably much more difficult than it is in most developed countries. Many SMEs in this country are still trying to recover from the ramifications of the pandemic, and now they also have to deal with the compounding negative effects of frequent load-shedding, high inflation and interest rates, rising input costs and shrinking consumer income, and extensive logistical and infrastructure challenges. Individually, each of these factors makes owning and running a business more difficult. Combined, they can take a massive toll on the mental well-being of any small- or medium-sized business owner.
The long working hours that most entrepreneurs work to overcome these challenges, coupled with very little time off, can be extremely draining and heighten the risk of burnout.
Very few SME owners have a 9–5 workday, and this can quickly lead to physical and emotional exhaustion. Anxiety and depression are also common among SME owners. The weight of daily decisions, along with the uncertainties and challenges outlined above, mean that most of them are always in a state of worry. This can easily lead to anxiety disorders or even depression if the business experiences setbacks.
Then, of course, there are the inevitable financial concerns. Juggling finances, worrying about cash flow and wages, as well as making sure that the business doors stay open from month to month can be overwhelming and is a constant source of stress for most entrepreneurs.
Fortunately, mental health challenges don’t have to be an inevitable part of small business owners lives. There are many ways and self-help tools to protect your mental well-being as you progress on your entrepreneurial journey.
The first is to put self-care first. This isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. As a business owner, you must carve out time to do what brings you joy, whether that’s a few minutes reading, or spending 30 minutes working out. These small moments offer a vital mental break and are often just the recharge you need to push through the challenges presented by the rest of each day.
Another source of invaluable mental well-being protection, but one that is often overlooked, is having supportive relationships. This doesn’t only mean business partners, or a spouse who understands your challenges. Your bank can also be an invaluable resource.
Beyond just being a place to save your money, a supportive banking partner can offer peace of mind. A trusted bank will provide financial advisory services that can guide you through cash flow management and optimisation methods, investment strategies, and tax planning to reduce one of the most significant sources of your financial stress.
Your bank can also be extremely helpful during times of crisis, by providing emergency funding, flexible repayment terms, and even deferring your payments in certain cases. This helps you to focus on the immediate business challenges without the added stress of inflexible financial obligations.
At Nedbank, we offer small-business support and development initiatives like workshops, training programmes, and networking events. These don’t just help you to grow your business, but also increase your confidence, and can even create a network of supportive and understanding peers. The SimplyBiz platform, accessible to any SME no matter who they bank with, offers a variety of helpful resources.
Mental Health Awareness Month offers a great opportunity for the business community to break the stigmas that are often attached to mental health issues and turn awareness into action, challenges into opportunities, and vulnerabilities into strengths, for more successful businesses and healthier business owners.