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  • robmarkwell

Running a Business: The Mental Health Impacts

In the context of work, a brighter spotlight has been put on work/life balance and mental health.

Rightly so many companies are striving to ensure more is done to support employees so work does not overly consume their lives. We are also encouraged to communicate openly with colleagues and managers when challenges of such nature occur.


However there is one area which in my opinion is not often discussed and that is the pressures felt by business owners.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) found that 56% of business owners need help with their mental health.


And if we look specifically at the UK recruitment sector where 80% of companies have 20 employees or less, the buck often stops with only one or two individuals sitting in an owner/manager role.


The story is often the same; the company is born from one or two extremely talented recruiters with exceptional drive an ambition who built a business from spare room to fully kitted out offices and staff. Just that précis alone can give off the illusion that the boss has it all sussed out.


The reality is often quite the opposite and nearly always much more complex.


Most recruitment business owners are expected to wear many hats and be knowledgeable in areas far from their original core skills. Those still managing sales team or even billing themselves are constantly fighting to get the balance right between working “in” and “on” the business, when to invest and grow versus when to cut back and keep costs low.

The job of owner may seem much easier at times of great prosperity but even then, if wrong decisions are made when the sun is shining, consequences are likely to be felt tenfold when the rain rolls in. On the flip side, should times get really hard, it can often be the case that many employees just quit and move on leaving the owners fighting for the business alone.


One thing the BACP research highlights is that the last thing any owner feels they can do is open up to their teams about they are feeling with 96% of business owners admitting to “bottling up their feelings”.

Like being on a flight where the plane loses an engine, the last thing you want to hear is the pilot panicking.


Many will counter with the very valid argument that being a business owner does come with potentially great rewards, so as a consequence comes with great pressure. This is true, but that’s not to say that that pressure can at times be overbearing. And a leader without a clear mind is not going to make the best decisions for the business, which in turns affects all the team.


Elon Musk described starting a company like "staring into the abyss and eating glass”. You are there to solve only the hardest of problems as they filter their way up the team to you. You don’t get to switch off, you bear immense liability (nearly 25% admit to taking personally backed loans to keep their business going) and most importantly, you are not allowed to show the toll it takes on you.


While I am prepared to bet that most business owner will sadly recognise most of the above, an overwhelming majority will argue that they love being a business owner and wouldn’t have it any other way. They just want to get better at getting through challenges quicker. Their passion for their vision means they sometimes throw themselves at tasks with limited perspective. They are moving at such pace, they miss problems, especially if sometimes they are themselves part of the problem.


It is a tough gig which is why not many try it and why only a few succeed.


So one of my beliefs is that when we are looking at how to create a better working environment, how to improve retention, how to make sure a business hits its growth targets… one of the very big considerations is how to develop, coach and mentor those at the top.


Because if the owner is getting it right, there is a better chance of the business getting it right. Then everybody wins.

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