Small business mental health and wellbeing at breaking point

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 22 October, 2021 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

Small business owners have reported stress levels and rates of mental ill-health that are higher now than in comparison to before the pandemic, according to a recent report.

Mental health and wellbeing is now one of the biggest challenges faced by small business over the past 12 months, and industry bodies are calling for action to be taken.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched already thin resources to breaking point,” said Jennifer Low, director WHS and health policy for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which released the report.

“Small business owners have had to juggle managing the mental health and safety of their employees, while being mindful of their own mental health, all within what was an already complex operating environment.”

The report noted the current regulatory landscape relevant to managing and supporting mental health at work is increasingly complex, noting with five primary pieces of legislation to comply with.

This increasing trend of regulation, coupled with the increasing pressure COVID has created on small business owners and their employees, is not sustainable, according to the report.

It also noted small businesses are not receiving the compliance assistance and general support that they want.

Further, a broad comprehensive strategy and further targeted support are needed to promote increased employment and participation of those with a mental health disorder.

The report’s findings were supported by a series of ACCI member surveys throughout 2020 and 2021.

“We need governments to not only provide mental health services and support but to acknowledge and address the fact that regulations surrounding the management of mental health in Australian businesses are complex and daunting for employers, particularly small business,” said Low.

“If action is not taken to streamline and simplify workplace regulation in the context of managing mental health, psychological risk and injury as well as employing people with disability, we will only continue to see poor health and productivity outcomes for businesses and individuals.”

ACCI chief executive, Andrew McKellar added: “In rebuilding the economy after the damage COVID has inflicted over the last two years, support for small business will be vital, as will increasing overall workforce participation.

“It is critical that governments work with small business to get the legal and regulatory environments right – when the implications have such significant consequences on the mental health of individuals and our economy.”