Is the mental health of New Zealand's leaders at risk?

MYOB report: 32% of business owners have suffered a mental health issue since owning their company

Is the mental health of New Zealand's leaders at risk?

Kiwis, with their can-do attitude and entrepreneurial spirit, have made SMEs an important part of New Zealand’s (NZ) economy. According to the latest data from MBIE, 99.5% of all enterprises are small to medium businesses. Large businesses (organisations with over 100 employees) only account for 0.5% of our countries business landscape.

29% of New Zealand’s workforce is employed by an SME, a large chunk which translates to a big responsibility for SME owners, but new data from the MYOB 2022 Business Monitor released this week, revealed that around a third (32%) of SME owners have suffered from a mental health issue themselves since taking over their business and despite mental health being a major focus for big business HR departments at the moment, only 25% of SME business owners have discussed mental health with their employees in the last 12 months.

“Despite often having good working relationships with their employees, talking about mental wellbeing can be difficult, especially for some colleagues or team members. However, letting others know that they are open to having the conversation, and placing a greater emphasis on mental wellbeing within the business could be a good way to approach this,” said Felicity Brown, Head of employee services at MYOB.

Read more: Auckland business chamber slams unfairness between big firms and SMEs

Mental Health Foundation’s Chief Executive, Shaun Robinson said, “A healthy and thriving business requires mental wellbeing policies to be made a priority. Good mental health leads to better engagement, reduced absenteeism, and higher productivity, while improving people’s wellbeing, morale, and job satisfaction.”

Brown said, “We know that for many SMEs, their employees are their greatest concern and those running a business often feel incredibly responsible for them. Addressing mental wellbeing in the workplace is likely hindered by time or resource.”

Leaders in large businesses have a range of additional support available from line managers and team leaders, but for many SME operators they are not only head of employee experience, but they are also the marketing manager, sales director, business strategist, CFO, and leading hand.

“It’s important to recognise that some SMEs are already making significant strides in helping support their employees’ wellbeing – from regular check-ins on workload, introducing flexible hours for better work/life balance, to offering mental health days and providing more education around mental health practices, said Brown.

Amongst the businesses which had implemented new wellbeing initiatives in their workplaces, these practices included regular check-ins to manage workload (40%), introducing flexible hours to improve work/life balance (38%) and providing team members with a mental health day or days (32%).

“Putting in place measures to help empower conversations around wellbeing or improve workplace practices and support for employees, doesn’t need to cost the earth,” says MYOB’s Felicity Brown.

Read more: How to lead an effective HR function in an SME environment

The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment and, all have resources available online to help small business owners and their teams get the ball rolling on these discussions. 

MYOB, aware of the critically important role mental wellness is playing in the workforce right now, last year partnered with mindfulness app, Smiling Mind, to develop a free resource to help SMEs manage mental health in the workplace, the Small Business Program, a psychologist-designed program created to help small business owners proactively manage the unique stressors and challenges they face.

“During these challenging times we encourage all SMEs to create a workplace where mental wellbeing takes centre stage. It may feel daunting initially as you juggle the challenges of running a business. You’ll need to communicate and engage with your staff so together you can begin to make change. To help support your conversations check out the free resources for workplaces that sit on our website,” said Robinson.

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