Navigating COVID-19 as a small business owner is no small feat, with the pandemic challenging the mental health of both employers and employees. According to a survey conducted by the NSW Government in 2020, 38% of supervisors and 27% of workers reported feeling mentally unwell in the last 12 months. Around half of these responses reported that the negative change resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Depending on your business, it may have resulted in a change in the type of work that needs to be done, setting up your employees to work remotely, and even rethinking how your business is run entirely. These changes, alongside the economic stress and ongoing health concerns about COVID-19, can take a toll on the mental wellbeing of yourself and your employees. 

Now, more than ever, it is important to make sure your business is mentally healthy so your employees feel supported and comfortable when it comes to talking about mental health. 

Look After Yourself 

As a small business owner, you undoubtedly have a lot on your plate. When you’re looking after your business and employees, it can be easy to forget to look after yourself. So while it may be tempting to direct all of your time and attention toward running your business,  it is crucial that you take some time to take care of yourself too. 

Some common issues you may come across include:

  • Regularly working long hours or responding to business calls or emails after hours
  • Continually managing cash flow and feeling concerned about when your next job will be
  • Feeling responsible to your employees to ensure your business is successful
  • Balancing a range of roles, including staying on top of business admin and government regulations
  • Feeling isolated in circumstances where you may not have someone in a similar position to share your business worries with

Chances are that the pandemic has intensified or added new and unprecedented challenges to the mix. Now more than ever 

Benefits of Promoting Mental Health In The Workplace

Ensuring your workplace values mental health and wellbeing doesn’t just benefit your employees – its flow-on effects will also be favourable to you and your business. 

Be On The Front Foot

It is often said that prevention is better than cure, and this is no exception. Promoting good mental health in your business can ensure that you are looking after your employees and reduce the risk of workplace issues arising.

Under work health and safety laws, employers have a duty to eliminate or minimise risks to psychological health and safety as much as you reasonably can. 

Making sure your workplace provides a safe space for your employees to talk about mental health may mean that your employees will feel comfortable speaking up when they may be experiencing job stress or burn out.

Improved Staff Productivity

When employees are struggling with their mental health, a likely consequence is a drop in quality of work and even attendance. This can have adverse impacts for your business’ productivity and place inadvertent pressure on everyone else to pick up the slack.

In contrast, those working in businesses that promote mental health are generally more productive and engaged. Prioritising a mentally healthy business can ultimately minimise your employees from feeling overworked, and actually mean that they find going to work more enjoyable overall. 

Curating Your Dream Team

Creating a work environment that promotes positive mental health and employee wellbeing can help you find and keep quality employees. It can also be attractive to prospective employees, with many prioritising a mentally healthy workplace when looking for a job.

Providing A Safe Workplace: Your Legal Obligations 

Your duties and obligations to look after an employee’s mental health is set out under a variety of laws. This includes: 

  • Providing a physically and mentally safe workplace and preventing any risks to your employee’s mental health arising from work. Generally speaking, this may encompass a range of risks resulting in work-related stress, from workplace bullying, to high job demands and lack of support from colleagues and supervisors.
  • Not discriminating against employees because of a mental health condition and making reasonable adjustments to overcome barriers to work.
  • Protecting the personal information of your employees and not disclosing confidential medical information to anyone without consent from that employee.
  • Not taking any adverse action against an employee because of their mental health condition.

Tip: Speaking to your employees is often a good place to start when it comes to implementing measures to manage risks to mental health. 

Mental Health Days

Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), permanent employees are entitled to take personal leave when they are “not fit for work because of a personal illness”. 

While the law is silent on mental health days specifically, it will generally be treated in the same way as any other kind of sick day. According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, personal illness can include stress related illnesses. You can read more about sick leave here

Keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic may impact your employees in different ways. For example, changing working conditions and working from home may create a sense of isolation and/or cause financial stress for some employees. 

What Can You Do? 

Promoting mental health in your business doesn’t need to be complicated. Even talking about it and increasing awareness can help to reduce any stigma associated with mental illnesses and mental health conditions in your workplace.

It is also a good idea to involve your employees when implementing initiatives and measures to promote mental health in the workplace. Including your employees in the conversation makes sure that you are introducing strategies that are meaningful to them and will ultimately have the maximum positive impact. 

Below are some ideas to help get you started:

Schedule Regular Catch-Ups

Regular catch-ups with your team can be an extremely useful way to build relationships and maintain a sense of connection, particularly if you are all working remotely or from home. These sessions can offer your employees an opportunity to debrief if they have had a difficult week at work, or simply act as a means to hang out with each other.

Look Out For Warning Signs

If you have noticed any changes in demeanour with an employee, it may help to provide an indicator as to how they are going. While it may currently be tricky to gauge mood based on body language if your team is working from home, changes in productivity and attitudes towards work may be a sign that they may be struggling. 

Check In On Employees You Are Concerned About

If you’ve noticed that one of your employees might need support, it’s important to follow up. Organise to speak with them one-on-one and let them know that you are there to help. For tips on starting the conversation, check out HeadsUp.

Be responsive if your employee tells you that they are struggling. Where possible, explore options with them to provide appropriate support. For example, approving leave requests, reducing their workload or extending deadlines to relieve any immediate pressure they may be under.

Where To Get Help

If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, or someone you know is, some helpful resources include:

Need Other Legal Help? 

If you help with small business legals, reach out to us for a free, no-obligations chat on 1800 730 617 or email us at

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