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Know the signs

We all deal with stress at different times—it’s important to be able to recognise when your mental health needs attention.  If you’re able to recognise the signs in yourself you’ll be better equipped to take action and ensure you’re able to keep working in, and on, your small business.

Looking out for yourself

The signs that may indicate it’s time to take care of yourself include:

• being unable to focus or complete work tasks

• avoiding making decisions at work

• isolating yourself from your work colleagues, family and friends

• feeling irritable and uptight regularly

• unusual changes in your eating or drinking habits; you may be eating less than normal (or more), or consuming more alcohol than normal

• not participating in hobbies you usually enjoy

• being unable to sleep

• being unable to switch off – your mind is constantly focused on work

• physical signs like crying regularly, feeling nauseous, feeling unwell

• regularly experiencing tension in your shoulders, neck or stomach

• feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.

We all experience stress and anxiety in different ways, and not all stress is bad. However, being in a constant state of stress or anxiety is usually an indicator that your mental health needs some attention.  The key is to be able to recognise your unique signs and acknowledge if they have become a longer-term problem which is beginning to affect your work performance.

Looking out for your employees

Small businesses and family enterprises tend to work as very close units when extra people are employed in the business. This makes mental health for everyone critical; as research shows absentee days and poor work performance can be costly for business.

Sometimes an employee may feel comfortable disclosing their mental health situation with you. In other cases, changes in behaviour and work patterns may signal that an employee needs support. These indicators may include:

• changes in their usual work performance

• inability to meet deadlines

• unable to focus on the job tasks

• loss of interest in their job

• changes in general patterns of behaviour (i.e. changes in appearance)

• regularly arriving late or leaving early

• increased absentee days

• not interacting with fellow employees or appearing isolated from the team

• irritable and short tempered with others

• displaying physical signs of distress like crying, shouting or fatigue.

Mentally healthy workplaces have leaders who remain vigilant to the needs of their team. In a small business or family enterprise there are often regular opportunities to observe when someone is acting out of character. If you are concerned about an employee, make a note of your observations so that you can have a discussion with them when appropriate. This is important in family businesses where often relationships extend beyond the workplace.