Disruptive Minds: Mental Health in SMEs – how can you make wellbeing a priority in your small business?


The latest ‘Disruptive Minds’ webinar hosted by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and Vodafone Business saw a group of SME founders discuss the topic of mental health in the workplace, and investigated how SMEs can make mental health and wellbeing a priority. 

The prevalence of wellbeing and mental health acceptance and support in the workplace is growing, and it is more important now than ever that businesses are implementing wellbeing practices into their business models.

Research conducted by Vodafone Business found that smaller businesses are more likely to be affected by the impacts of employees’ mental health – if not dealt with in the right manner. The smaller the team, the more responsibility, for both the employee and the employer. Ensuring that your employees are well both physically and mentally is key to the success or failure of a business. So if you don’t already, now is the time to make mental health a priority for your business.  

To get an understanding of the current wellbeing state of the workplace, the group discussed how the pandemic affected workplace wellbeing, both during and after. 

So, how can small businesses make mental health a priority in their workplace? 

Adapting to Employee Needs  

Tru Powell, serial entrepreneur, explained how he noticed a major effect on the mental health of those involved in his academy – Aston Performing Arts Academy. Being a performing arts academy, the pandemic meant they had to close, taking away resources, and escapism for those involved.  “We quickly realised that because the pandemic was taking away their resources, they became depressed and low,” he said. “Not only were we unable to meet in person, but it took away their art that they once used to escape everyday life”. 

“We had to move everything online and noticed there was huge disengagement. We knew we had to do something quickly to solve this problem, so we brought in a full-time online therapist, so staff and people within our community could anonymously book sessions, and get the support they needed.” 

As well as the effects on their community, Tru explained how the leadership team were also suffering. “We had to try and be mindful of our own mental health, as well as our employees, and our young community all at the same time.” 

The Importance of Boundaries

Kat Pither, founder of Yogi Bare, agreed that connectivity is a vital way to keep a successful business running, and a great way of ensuring employees are well, both mentally and physically. She championed how technology was a great way of keeping connected throughout the pandemic, as she was able to connect with employees, and the outside world – however, the blur that technology caused on personal boundaries was something that she noticed had a negative effect.

“Boundaries went out the window,” she said. “Work became many people’s escapism during this time (the pandemic), and for many, there was no 9-5 anymore, people would be working on the weekends, or in the evenings – and I think it was so important to set firm, but kind boundaries for my employees.” 

“Understanding that people are people, and allowing flexibility and letting people actually relax on their day off is really important,” she said. “ I know my team inside out, they are more like family and friends, so really knowing what they need, and nourishing and nurturing their needs is vital.” 

Mike Dunn, Managing Director of Excel TM Group, agreed that seeing your employee’s needs as a priority is key to creating positive wellbeing for the team – which was fuelled by his own personal experience during the pandemic. 

“I wanted my team to be able to come to me and have the ability to say, Mike, my little boy is not well, or, my little girls fell over whatever it might be and for them not to feel under pressure, or wondering if they’re going to get in trouble for being a parent. We are in an industry where these things are sometimes frowned upon, but I wanted to break that stigma.” 

Kat agreed, saying, “we base so much off archaic templates from the 1950s, and we live in a totally new world with new challenges and technology in our lives. There are no boundaries with tech, and I think it’s so important to take a step back and think that if you employ people that are passionate about what you do and you inject passion and creativity, you could get far more done, quicker, better, and with more care.”

Encourage Positive Activities

When the pandemic hit, Shan Hanif, founder of Genflow,  found that their industry hit mass panic, as there was a knock-on effect on how creators were working, due to the effect the pandemic had on brands.

“I rallied my team together on a positive mission. There were so many people out there whose income had stopped, so the team started reaching out to people to find out how we could help,” he said. “So not only was that a positive focus for my team, it was a positive focus for people we’re interacting with.” 

“It was something to look forward to because we were winning together, in a world where at that time it felt like everything was going to go west,” said Shan. 

In today’s day and age, it is so important to be aware of how your employees are feeling, to ensure that your team is successful and well supported. There are a number of ways in which you can encourage positive wellbeing, and be aware of your employee’s mental health, including the above examples. 

For more information, and to hear expert advice on how you can make mental health a priority in your business – watch the full conversation here. 

Our next Disruptive Minds webinar will see a group of SME founders, and experts discuss the overrepresentation of SMEs in London and analyse what more could be done to encourage SMEs in other regions.

The overrepresentation of SMEs in London – what can be done to encourage more SMEs in other regions? – Jul 7, 2022, 11:00 AM; Register your free space here.