What mental and physical wellbeing challenges do micro businesses face? A panel of business owners and a medical expert offer practical strategies for employers and staff.
Recently, LiveSmart’s Alex Heaton, The Bakery’s Andrew Humphries, Nosh Detox’s Geeta Sidhu-Robb, Perkbox’s Chieu Cao, CharlieHR’s Rob O’Donovan and AXA PPP healthcare’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Arup Paul were brought together to dissect how SMEs can build a lasting wellbeing culture.
Clocking over 20 hours longer at work than the average employee each week, small business owners are among the most overworked people in the UK. Rob O’Donovan, co-founder and CEO of CharlieHR, summed up the unique challenges facing those who choose to start and grow their own company.
“Running a company is one of the most perilous careers you can go into from a mental health perspective. It’s up and down, and many of the attributes of a steady environment for positive mental wellbeing are not there. Balance is tricky for everyone, but thinking of work and life as two separate things is unrealistic.” – Rob O’Donovan
With the landscape mapped out, we asked our panel to answer the one question every entrepreneur should be asking themselves – how do you protect your own physical and mental wellbeing as a business owner?
As O’Donovan touched upon, the all-important work/life balance can’t be achieved by treating your personal life and business as two separate entities, and whether it’s bosses or workers, mental and physical wellbeing is tied to our working lives.
Watch the highlights video below to hear what the panelists had to say.
Sleep deprivation is widespread among micro business owners, with over half struggling to sleep as a result of finance-related worries. Considering the pressure of running a small enterprise, this is unlikely to shock. On the other hand, lack of sleep is detrimental to problem-solving and achieving your goals.
Chieu Cao, founder and CMO of staff benefits platform Perkbox, said more sleep was a vital route for better wellbeing. “Time is so precious, especially for business owners, and it feels like you’re cheating if you sleep too much. But sleep is the one thing that connects our mind to our body”.
In waking hours, meditation was a popular strategy among the panel for reducing stress and controlling anxiety. “Meditation is one of the most profoundly impactful things I have done,” O’Donovan added. ”Without a shadow of a doubt, it has helped me stay on top of things.” A wide market of mobile apps is now giving business owners the chance to incorporate regular meditation practice into their working day.
Find what works for you
But a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t always realistic. “We all have our own strategies for coping,” Alex Heaton, founder and CEO of LiveSmart, noted. He said taking just 30 seconds between one meeting and the next can act as effective “mini-meditation” and help clear the mind. Heaton also stressed the link between regular exercise and positive mental wellbeing.
Inside the “machismo” of the business world, AXA’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Arup Paul warned it was easy to build a wall around how we actually feel, and said having a trusted circle of friends, colleagues and peers to communicate openly with was a fundamental feature of a positive wellbeing.
“Approaching life in a transparent manner is one of the most critical things to living a more balanced life.” – Dr Arup Paul
Wellbeing for employees – what they want or what they need?
When it comes to delivering impactful wellbeing strategies within a tight budget, is it about offering staff what they want, or what they need? The panel debated the merits of both approaches and provided creative ideas for employers looking to incorporate a realistic plan.
“We ask our staff ‘what do you want?” Cao explained. “It doesn’t necessarily have to come at a cost.” At Perkbox, the wellbeing strategy began with mental health. Following one-off training for selected employees, the company provides first-line mental wellbeing consultants with whom staff can have that initial conversation, and then be pointed towards professional help if necessary.
For most of the panellists, good nutrition and physical fitness are the cornerstones of long-term health and everyday wellbeing. “You don’t need a big budget and you know when it’s working,” Cao added. Initiatives that encourage physical health and wellbeing, like running clubs, yoga sessions at work, or five-a-side football don’t have to cost a lot.
A 2016 government study shows that one in four women and one in five men in England are defined as inactive, doing less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Employees who are in good health are less likely to need time off work and are likely to be more productive. What can employers do to help desk-bound employees get active?
“It’s good to find out what they need,” Heaton said, “because what they want and what they need can be different.” At LiveSmart, Heaton and his team looked at physical wellbeing and introduced a new policy around gym times during the week. “We allow people to go to the gym at any time they want and they make the time up,” he explained. “It doesn’t cost us any extra money but it’s the flexibility that allows people to go.”
Having been taken aback by how unaware colleagues can be of each other’s personal lives, O’Donovan also emphasised this proactive approach to staff wellbeing. He said it was important to have “proper conversations” with your team about what’s happening to them outside of work.
“The moment people are invited to share what’s going on, it helps you get a much richer perspective of who people are.”
Visit AXA PPP healthcare’s Work & Wellbeing programme to find out how to build a healthy business
Feeling run down? Overwhelmed running your business? A new wellbeing collaboration from AXA PPP healthcare for small business owners can help you manage health and wellbeing to get the most out of your day, one step at a time.
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