The recent Small Business Mental Health: Through the Pandemic report released by Treasury (Treasury, 2022) highlighted what many small business owners already know, that the professional and life pressures of running small business are mounting and the cracks are showing. It reaffirmed how creative and adaptable the small business community can be in times of crisis. However, what stood out in these findings was that we cannot do it alone.
It is critical we talk not of small businesses, but of small business people – owners and operators, who are contending with technological, regulatory and societal change, implementing a constant flow of new measures and new compliance requirements, one of the most complex IR systems in the world, and red tape that is restrictive, prohibitive and overwhelming.
Without the support, relief and resources of large business, small business people feel the impacts of fatigue more sharply which directly affects their well-being and ability to cope with business and life pressures. The report found that 42% of respondents said they would talk to a family member for support when times are tough. This isn’t surprising given 60% of all businesses in Australia are non-employing and a further 28% have four or less employees (ABS, 2022). Working as a sole-trader or micro business owner can be lonely, especially if the workplace is at home. Family and friends can play a crucial role in mental health and perhaps it’s time for our health providers to include them in the mentally healthy workplace conversations for small business owners.
It comes as no surprise that over 1 in 5 people in the Treasury report said they had been diagnosed with a mental ill-health condition by a doctor or health professional in recent months. The number of people undiagnosed is unimaginable, with barriers such as cost, lack of time and services, not understanding the needs of small businesses, listed as the main reasons for not getting support when needed.
We applaud the continuation of services like New Access for Small Business, The Small Business Debt Help Line and Counting on U. Programs that are showing great success in maintaining and supporting small business. We must keep tailored small business mental health support services well promoted and free for small business owners.
COSBOA continues to champion the value of small business joining the right industry association group and this release reinforces how important this can be to mental health – 26% of respondents said that connecting with others was a key strategy to maintain their health and wellbeing. Industry associations understand the business nuances particular to their business sector better than many others in business and help provide the tailored understanding and support.
A call out for 2023; When governments make changes to the legislation, they need to more acutely consider how these changes will be implemented – and by whom, and when.
Humanising the face of small business is vital to prevent further ill health.
We seek for all sections of Government to understand the real impacts of recent and proposed changes. Changes being implemented such as Single Touch Payroll, Stapled Superfund checking, Employer agreements as part of IR reform, paid family and domestic violent leave, considerations of portable LSL schemes, rethinking around casuals and contractors, changing compliance processes and increased interaction from government debt collectors. There is more.
Enhanced consideration, care and direct consultation needs to occur, so the real impacts are understood – for human lives, family cohesion, and the mental-wellbeing of thousands of people are at the receiving end of government changes. These changes need to fairly enhance productivity and make it easier to do business, not simply tackle perceived problems.
At the heart of small business are small business people, who essentially want the ability to be productive, to grow, to employ, to provide for their family and futures and make a difference to their customers and communities. This takes resources: financial and human, time, energy and focus.
As government moves towards further industrial relations reform in particular, we need to ensure changes enable people to be more productive – not deterred from employing others and growth. We need to ensure the changes are practical, the cost is not worn by the small business owner and that these measures work to inspire, encourage, and support small business growth and prosperity. Anything else works against the proposition of starting a small business, an entrepreneurial spirit, core to the Australian economy.
Whilst we seek a more fair, just and simpler system for businesses – of all sizes – to thrive in, it is important we reach out and support someone who is struggling under the pressures of today.
In a context of uncertainty, change and transition, 2023 must also be the year where we continue to support and enable small business people to flourish, for when they thrive, so do we all.
We’re pleased to see the release of this research (and other recent similar small business research) and encourage all who are connected to the small business sector to consider the results and recommendations carefully. They demonstrate that everyone in our business community has a responsibility to support the mental health of those working in the small business sector. It cannot just be the responsibility of the individual – we are dependent on each other to thrive. This report does an excellent job identifying that.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2022). Counts of Australian Businesses Including Entries and Exits. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/economy/business-indicators/counts-australian-businesses-including-entries-and-exits/latest-release
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2022). Business Conditions and Sentiments. https://abs.gov.au/economy/business-indicators/business-conditions-and-sentiments/jun-2022
The Australian Government: The Treasury (2022). Small Business and Mental Health: Through the Pandemic. https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2022-12/p2022-345571.pdf