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Does a successful business equal good mental health?

By Kris Gottschall, Research Associate, Centre for Rural and Remote Health.

When you think about a successful business, what do you see in your mind’s eye?

Do you see customers who can’t get enough of the product/service and the money just keeps rolling in? Do you see the business owner and the employees buzzing, busy but happy, doing what they do best? Or maybe you see the business owner working long hours, even working weekends? Maybe you see hard-working employees, hitting their targets, but stressed and tired – on their way to burnout?

When you think “successful business”, do you think “good mental health”?

It might be a generalisation but do small business owners tend to ignore their own mental health and wellbeing needs to prioritise the business’s needs? Do they think, if I just get the business pumping, “get it to where it needs to be” – then I can step back and relax, knowing it’s bubbling along, a well-oiled machine? But what if stepping back and relaxing never comes? And worst, what if we get a major setback – a cashflow crisis, personal crisis, global financial crisis, natural disaster or a global pandemic?

What reserves do you have in the tank then? And I’m not just referring to financial or economic reserves, but emotional and mental health reserves. How resilient are you? And how easy is it for you and your business to adapt to change?

For some reason, many people running small businesses often think their business and their own mental health and wellbeing needs are separate. It is fair to say that generally, small business owners are not good at recognising and managing their own stress and the stress of their employees. In fact, 56% of small business owners say running their own business has led to feelings of depression and/or anxiety.[1] It may be that the email fired off to someone with a terse tone, or not having patience with clients or suppliers, or even yelling at the dog too much could be signs of work stress.

How are you going? Why not check in here?

Take a quick two-minute survey on business stress to gauge how you manage the typical stressors business owners face.

A common metaphor that mental health advocates use is the ‘stress bucket’.

We each carry a ‘bucket’ that is full of all of life’s stresses – work, finances, family, relationships, health – and we have to lug this with us. Sometimes, the stress is big and we carry a heavy load. We have to be careful not to let our bucket get too full, otherwise we will not be able to cope. The video also shows us ways we might be able to better manage the stress in our lives, so that our physical and mental health doesn’t suffer. They’re both connected, after all.

Imagine if you could plan ahead, so that when something goes wrong, the plan clicks into gear and takes most of the stress out of it? Imagine if you could plan ahead, so that when needed to, you could step out of the business and it would continue without you for some time. Imagine making decisions from a place of calm when you were under pressure and stressed. This is what your own Wellbeing Plan could potentially do for you.

Just like a farmer might destock in drought or look for signs that trigger a set of likewise actions on the farm, business owners in whatever industry might think about their wellbeing at work, and look for signs that might trigger a set of actions. Whether that be the need for time out before you feel the stress getting to a level where you struggle to cope, or reaching out for help from support networks at key times, or training up someone else to take on some of the business responsibility – there are ways to recognise and work through the work stressors and pressures weighing on your shoulders.

As the old saying goes, the best way to get things done, is to begin. So, the best way to have good wellbeing at work is to begin good mental health practices and put the planning in place to do so.


[1] Small business owners experience mental health issues (

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