By Robert Stewart, Business Psychologist

Why small business owners must prioritise their wellbeing

As a business psychologist working alongside SMEs around the UK to facilitate leadership, engagement and wellbeing, I regularly hear of business owners who are struggling.

Although they take great pride in their company and love the autonomy they have, they can find themselves overburdened with a sense of responsibility – which can mean neglecting their own welfare.

The common problem is they are trying to juggle both the needs of the business and the employees they are responsible for. This can feel relentless, and they can find themselves questioning whether they’re doing enough for anyone.

More support is needed

The main difficulty for SME owners is that it falls on them to look out for themselves, as there are often no processes or functions in place where they can discuss or feedback on their wellbeing.

Because of this, basic wellbeing can take a back seat and it’s likely that business owners will fall into the habit of prioritising the practical aspects of work, such as making sure customers happy and keeping accounts in order.

With the success of the business on their shoulders, often they will see any time spent looking after themselves in a negative light as it takes away from work.

Improved wellbeing makes for a happier business

But this is counter-productive, and it’s only a matter of time before neglecting your wellbeing will have a detrimental effect on your physical, mental or general sense of wellbeing.

It’s important to remember that wellbeing is directly correlated with performance. Research time and time again shows engaged, healthy employers (and employees) can focus longer, be more dedicated, and achieve more than those who push themselves and don’t take care of their other needs.

My top three tips for improved wellbeing

1. Find a wellbeing advocate – my first piece of advice would be to establish your own process for looking after yourself and the most effective way of doing this is to have an advocate. This is someone who you trust who can feedback when they think you need it, and you can then do what’s necessary to help yourself. I suggest a peer group, colleague, coach or even family member. But the responsibility is then on you to accept the advice given and seek the help.

2. Take an honest look at the way you work – Consider the type of work you do and the rules you set for yourself. The reason many struggle so much is they become overly task-focused and can forget to be people-focused. Whether task or people focused we produce different ‘happy’ hormones, so too much dopamine from task-focused work can be offset by spending time focusing on people. Even a drink on Friday evening with colleagues can help you to rebalance and find a happy medium.

3. Rewrite your internal rule book – Finally, each of us has an internal rule book; ‘laws’ that keep us safe, which we all hope people will abide by. But sometimes these rules can be counter-productive in everyday life and can hinder our well-being. Start to pay attention at work when you say or think “I should, I must, I have to”. This is where we know rules are active and influencing our behaviour. Some will be helpful, others not so much, such as “I must skip lunch to get this done”.

As a business owner, you have the privilege of writing your own rulebook. I know from my work with hundreds of SMEs that the happiest businesses start with a happy business owner, so take steps today to becoming one.


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From our research

73% of UK SME owners admit to feeling lonely.

Three quarters don’t know who to turn to when things get tough.

60% don’t believe there is enough support for UK SMEs looking to expand.

Eastern regions of the UK (East England, East Midlands and North East) are the loneliest for SME, with small business owners feeling as much as 20% more isolated than their peers in the west of the country.

Helpful links

The Federation of Small Business’ (FSB) Wellbeing in Small Business Hub.

Mental health charity Mind’s dedicated Workplace hub

A new independent review of mental health and employers by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, Thriving at Work: a review of mental health and employers, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health

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