We spoke to Cavendish Cancer Care’s Chloe Angus, small business owner Ellie Grace and insolvency practitioners Graywoods Leonard Curtis about the mental health crisis impacting our region’s small business owners.
Rising inflation, spiralling energy prices, fears of recession and the ongoing impact of the pandemic… they’re all factors serious enough to make anybody feel stressed.
In fact, a recent Mental Health Foundation survey, conducted by Opinium of 3,000 UK adults found that 29% of adults reported experiencing stress, 34% experienced anxiety and 10% said they felt hopeless because of financial worries.
While these worrying figures affect us all, business owners are even more at risk of suffering from issues surrounding their mental health due to financial worries, with a survey of more than 600 small business owners, commissioned by small business insurance provider Simply Business, revealing four in five small business owners are worried how the cost of living crisis is affecting their business, with two thirds seeing rising costs as the biggest challenge to their business.
A fifth rated their mental health as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ and over half reported feeling stressed. Two fifths have been experiencing anxiety, while more than one in five struggled with insomnia.
Sheffield insolvency practitioner Danielle Shore says that the cumulative effect the squeeze on the economy is having is causing a major impact on the mental health of the business community in our region.
She believes that some of those worst affected are younger business people who lack the experience to see how they can weather the current financial storm. She adds that by the time they seek advice about their business prospects, they are showing serious signs of extreme mental distress and even physical breakdown.
Danielle, who is based in the Sheffield office of insolvency practitioners Graywoods Leonard Curtis, said: “People who have worked hard to build up a business find themselves feeling humiliated at the position they are now in, their sense of self-worth suffers and perhaps worse of all there is a sense that they have let down their employees, their creditors and, most importantly in many cases, their families.”
“They come to us for advice and we find that some are so afraid for the future that they really do feel suicidal, pushed to the limit by their situation.
“This is the point at which they begin to experience symptoms of both physical and mental ill health, often exacerbated by the fact that they believe, quite wrongly, that there is no positive way out of the situation.”
Chloe Angus, the Corporate Wellbeing Manager at Cavendish Cancer Care and a business owner in her own right, believes that the uncertainty caused by the current climate is a huge problem right now.
“It’s almost an imperfect storm.” says Chloe, “We had several years of a pandemic which disrupted so many people’s lives, we have a cost of living crisis with increasing energy bills, and so much uncertainty.
“Uncertainty really impacts on people. If we don’t feel like we’ve got control over what we’re doing, that’s when some of the overthinking and worries can start. That can turn into anxiety which then prevents us looking after ourselves properly and maybe stops us from sharing those thoughts.
“The fact that there’s limited trust in so many organisations nowadays, and wars going on in different parts of the world, there’s just so much going on that it’s really impacting the mental health of people.”
Like Danielle Shore, Chloe also believes that younger people in business are being disproportionately affected by poor mental health, quoting a study by Deloitte that found 50% of millennials and Gen Z feel stressed most or all of the time, and 98% of Gen Z feel symptoms of burnout.
She added: “From small business owners to big organisations, there is a huge impact on mental health, but studies have shown that it is definitely impacting on younger people more.
“If we think about Gen Z, they’ve had most of their life, and definitely most of their adult life, in a state of crisis management, thinking what is going to happen next? Older millennials, or older generations, have had much longer periods of their lifetime where there’s been stability. Gen Z has not been able to build that resilience in a time of stability because they’ve always been in crisis.
“One of the things that younger generations mention as a contributing factor when discussing how they’ve struggled, and how difficult things have been, is mobile phone usage. I remember a time when we didn’t have access to everything immediately and we weren’t constantly on demand.
“But Gen Z and younger people in the workplace have never had that experience. Quite a lot of people nowadays are saying ‘okay, we need to go offline for a certain amount of time’, because they’ve always had this constant stream of notifications. There’s a kind of ‘always on’ situation that they find themselves in.
“Boundaries have also been difficult. During the pandemic, a lot of people worked from home. For many of the older generations that was either a one bedroom or two-bedroom apartment, or they’d got their own house, so they could create their own transitions and their own boundaries in the workplace.
“For a lot of young people, they might have been flat sharing, or they might have just had a studio where the desk is right next to their bed, and then how do they switch off?
Millennials who have built up their business over a number of years are also finding it tough. Sheffield based photographer Ellie Grace (who is below and is also responsible for the images of Chloe on these pages) has owned her own photography business for over ten years, but this year, more so than ever, she is finding opportunities limited and has suffered the effects of that on her mental health.
She said: “Business is really hard right now. Especially with everything that’s going on in the world. It’s getting to me a lot and I don’t know whether that’s because I’m feeling the cost of living crisis myself.
“It’s so much harder this year than it has been any other year. I am being undercut so much at the moment and that’s so hard on my mental health because it feels like no one is valuing what I do? Is no one valuing me?
“I don’t feel valued as a photographer anymore because so many people choose the cheaper option – and it’s not their fault. The cost of living crisis is making it so people can’t afford as much, so why are they going to pay someone that’s been doing it for 10 years, that’s charging X amount, when there’s someone doing it for another X amount that’s way lower? They might not do as good of a job, but you’re going to go for the lower price.
“People do need to start somewhere. I was that person 10 years ago, charging £200 for a wedding. How else would I have started? I get it but it’s still difficult not to take it personally. I know it’s often because the other photographer is cheaper, but that doesn’t help either – rationalising it doesn’t help the feelings that I have at all.
“Last year, I had my very first case of burnout and I’ve never experienced it before. I just couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks. I’ve had depression, I know what that feels like and that wasn’t depression. It was like being hit by a bus of tiredness. I wasn’t sad, I was just tired.”
By 2025, Gen Z will make up 27% of the workforce and 98% of them have symptoms of burnout, so as business owners it’s becoming increasingly important to tackle the issues of mental health and burnout now, as 2025 is not very far away.
Chloe has some suggestions for business owners and their staff based on her own experiences and her expert knowledge of the field: “I struggled for quite a long time with my own mental health, and it took me a long time to actually seek any help because I always thought I had to be that strong person with a smile. So much of it is allowing ourselves the permission to actually have days that are tough.
“The first thing I would suggest someone does is find someone that you can trust and open up to. If you can open up to someone close to you, that you love and that you trust, that’s really important.
“If you feel like you need to get some support professionally, there is absolutely no shame in doing that at all. There is no shame in getting therapy. There are plenty of options out there through the NHS, and there’s no shame in taking medication for it either because sometimes that is what we need to help us to start to rebuild.
“It’s difficult for small businesses, but actually, we can all become mentally health aware. Invest in some mental health training. There’s still a stigma around mental health in the workplace. There’s still quite a lot of people who think that people use stress as an excuse to have time off. Believe your staff when they’re telling you, I think that’s really important.
“Offering flexibility and not just flexibility for childcare, but flexibility for people to be able to do things that are supportive to their mental health. Regular communication of what is expected of them is really going to help, especially for young people, because that ‘always on’ state makes it difficult to understand what is a priority and what isn’t.
“Giving them the reassurance that they have a purpose and they have a place in the organisation is really important. If you’re living in permanent crisis mode, you’re going to think, am I safe in this working environment?
“Giving them that agency and control is key because control is a really important aspect of burnout. If we feel like we don’t have the resources, we don’t have control of what we’re doing, we’re more likely to suffer from burnout.
“Modelling behaviours is also really important. If you’re not modelling behaviours of boundaries, for example around taking lunch, what does that tell your employees? Does that tell them that they’re not allowed to take lunch? If you’re working all sorts of hours at night, maybe that does work for you, but think about does it actually work? Give yourself that moment to reflect.”
For Ellie Grace, taking time out for herself has become hugely important. She said: “I think the one thing that I’ve been really good at this year, and I’m really grateful for it, is that I’ve actually taken two separate weeks out, for a week of doing nothing. Not going on holiday. Not doing anything. I just stayed in Sheffield and had a week out and that’s been really important. It was amazing and I came back feeling refreshed. I think that’s really important for business owners to do, to just actually have time out.”
From a business perspective, insolvency practitioner Danielle Shore believes the best advice she can give, is to take advice if the stress of trying to pay the bills is getting on top you.
She said: “We see people who, after just one meeting, say they have slept for the first time in months, simply because they have finally shared their problem.
“We can’t make the problem go away but we can explain the measures and options that are available to begin the necessary steps towards moving forward.
“And just like visiting the doctor, the sooner you make the appointment, the sooner you’ll get the proper diagnosis for your problem and begin to take appropriate action.”
Cavendish Cancer Care also offer a range of different options for organisations to support their team with their wellbeing and their mental health, including Mental Health First Aid training and focus talks.
Chloe, who heads up the programme, explains: “I think it’s really important that if you have an organisation and you have physical first aid, that you also have mental health first aid as well, because I think in most organisations, we’re probably more likely to struggle with our mental health than we are to actually break a leg.
“We also have focus talks, which are really popular, where we’ll come in and do a talk on a particular area. They are only 45 minutes so it’s not taking up loads of time, but we can really focus on a particular subject, whether that’s improving sleep, managing burnout, or things like nutrition. We have a popular one at the moment called Eating Well on a Budget. Beans on toast is not that bad for you. It’s actually pretty good!
“It’s great to go out and actually help people and really encourage people to start thinking about how they can implement the things that we’re talking about in their everyday life.”
To find out more about Cavendish Cancer Care’s Wellbeing courses head to their website.