First published in the New Zealand Herald
Owners of small businesses and their employees have been put under the mental health microscope by cloud accounting firm Xero.
A survey of 1001 small business owners the company carried out with the Mental Health Foundation has found that many (39 per cent) are so busy running their business they don’t have time to develop it. In addition, more than a third of their employees are left out in the cold when it comes to their mental health.
The Small Business Wellbeing report says just 32 per cent of the employers who took part in the survey thought their staff would benefit from improved wellbeing. However, 40 per cent said they didn’t believe they were responsible for the wellbeing of their staff. It is an attitude that Craig Hudson, managing director New Zealand and Pacific Islands Xero, wants to change.
“We want to show that a new way of leadership is here and business owners need to wake up because people are going to demand it,” he says.
“We, collectively as leaders and as a community that is around small businesses, need to take a stand. Business owners need to take note; not just for the livelihood of their business — but because it won’t be there in a few years if you don’t.”
The report shows that most small business leaders lack an holistic understanding of what wellbeing is and often fail to lead wellbeing initiatives.
It says there is massive scope for New Zealand’s small business sector to take a leadership role in directly supporting and improving the mental wellbeing of the 600,000 New Zealanders they employ — let alone the impact this would have on their employee’s friends, family and communities.
Hudson says there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a positive work environment.
“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “Adapt the tools you already have and integrate a mental health and wellbeing focus to the programmes and work already under way.”
Hudson says there is enough evidence to show that wellbeing and mental health is bad in New Zealand, and “there is not a lot of practical support for things that have been put in place to actually truly make a difference”.
“It is a major issue for New Zealand,” says Hudson. “We have some of the worst (mental health) statistics in the world across all age groups.
“We as a business have taken it really seriously within the four walls of Xero. We have been championing it from within. We have an inside-out policy — so if stuff works inside [Xero] we try as much as we can to roll it outside.”
Hudson says he instigated the wellbeing survey to help him understand how Xero could play a bigger part in helping the 55 per cent of New Zealand businesses that use the company’s online accounting services.
“But to do that we needed to understand the root problem, or the scale of the problem,” he says. “And we needed to partner with someone that was credible. That’s where the partnership with the Mental Health Foundation came in.”
But with so many organizations tackling the country’s mental health issues; what does Hudson hope to add?
“If you look at the way government [mental health] agencies are set up you see it is all for the individual,” says Hudson. “Whereas we think small business — and culture and leadership within business — play a crucial role in the wellbeing of lots of people because employers are ultimately a conduit to excellence for many people during the working day.
“So if we’re able to create a better environment where people are able to leave work in a better place than when they arrive, then that has quite a big impact on the future wellbeing of them and the stress levels of the family when they go home.”
Hudson also says that many small business owners have no one to talk to due to reputational pressure within their community.
“They are not able to share what’s going on within their business with anybody,” he says. “So they take on the pressure of the world.”
As for the staff; Hudson says more should be done for them by way of services such as employee assistance programmes.
“There is enough research that shows that for every $1 spent on a member of staff’s wellbeing you get it back three times,” he says. “It’s a no-brainer. The old way of doing business is over and we need to be a little bit more focused on the true essence of who our people are rather than driving them into the ground.”
Hudson says his interest in contributing to people’s improved mental health is not a fleeting one.
“I’m not going to stop,” he says. “I’ll continue beating this drum because I want to focus on New Zealand Inc and drive change — it is one of my passions.”