How SME owners can protect their emotional wellbeing

During Mental Health Awareness Month in October last year, I spoke to clinical and consulting psychologist Marc Rogatschnig, who warned against a looming ‘burnout pandemic’ due to months of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress caused by Covid-19. 

For this year’s awareness month, we thought it would be appropriate to delve deeper into the burnout phenomenon with Marc, along with steps small business owners can take to ensure their wellbeing amid the continued effects of the pandemic.   

According to The World Health Organization, burnout is “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Symptoms may include lethargy, mental aloofness, pessimistic and cynical feelings related to work, and reduced professional capability.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners tend to be driven and passionate – often pushing themselves and those around them to perform their level best. These traits, while admirable to an extent, often result in stress and work overload. 

Combined with prolonged stress factors, such as Covid-19, the risk of burnout increases drastically. It’s essential to be aware of the signs because if left unaddressed, it may have adverse effects on your mental health and the ability of your business to function adequately.

Some reprieve, but the threats are still real

According to Marc, we haven’t surpassed the burnout pandemic yet; we’re still in it. “Burnout is an insidious condition that can last anything from weeks to years. So, while there’s a more upbeat atmosphere and some reprieve from the constant change and setbacks, I’m still worried that people have ignored the deeper systemic changes they need to make in their lives.”

Marc stated that 2022 would be the “battle for the soul of the workplace”, which will add further stress to organisational systems. People have started exploring their overall sense of purpose and direction, fanned by the rise of hybrid and remote work.   

Marc explained that, unlike developed economies where it’s easier for people to change roles, “we’re in an economy where the fear of leaving and not finding a job is extremely high. This means we have more people likely stuck and stagnant in their daily work than elsewhere. The question, ‘what do I really want?’ will keep gnawing at people.” He said that these factors are highly distracting and still pose a real threat to emotional wellbeing. 

Tips to protect your mental health

There are a few steps we can all take to help protect mental health amid the consequences of the pandemic. Marc suggests the following as a starting point:

  1. Focus on your emotional wellbeing: This long period of uncertainty, instability, insecurity, and anxiety needs to be understood as a profoundly emotional challenge. Unlike mental challenges, we can’t simply think our way out of this with more plans and strategies. We need to create space and focus on how to replenish emotional reservoirs.
  2. Get in touch with your whole life: To replenish these reservoirs, we need to take stock of every aspect of our life, then identify which elements are filling our emotional pots, which aren’t, and what parts of our daily lives were neglected. According to Marc, emotional replenishment comes from each individual’s daily choices, requiring deliberate attention and support.
  3. Reset and reboot: This is something each of us needs to do, which small and medium-sized businesses can do very easily, says Marc. Business owners can role-model a ‘whole of life’ approach to renewal. For Marc, the process of emotional renewal is best done with others and in the company of real human support and engagement. However, the pivot point for this will be how the future of work will look in each organisation, and each individual’s reaction to what is forced, encouraged or co-created. 

Be a coach to your employees

Mark stated that although you cannot fundamentally change the emotional wellbeing of your people, you should aim to be a coach or even be inclined to psychology. “You should be as fascinated with human behaviour as with commerce, and thus be encouraged to understand just how to support individuals and groups in a dynamic and ongoing manner.” This World Mental Health Month, and the rest of the year, be sure to invest the time in taking care of yourself and your employees – your business will reap the benefits in abundance.

By Colin Timmis, Xero’s Country Manager

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