Small Business Owners - Is it really "OK to be not OK?"

If our workforce is being encouraged to put mental health before their work - what happens if their employers do the same?

  Mental health has finally been given the recognition and attention it deserves. It's a relief to know that we now have permission to put our emotional well-being first; to be open about our head state and to take ‘time out’ without fear of judgment or consequence. 

LinkedIn is now full of posts about putting your mental health before your work.  But some of them bear a thinly veiled ‘V sign’ to employers.  These posts pick up thousands of likes and shares as we move into a new state of affairs in which “it’s OK to not be OK”.   

But from a work perspective, how many of us really believe that it is “OK to not be OK” 

The reality is that there is only a proportion of the working population for whom it is “OK to not be OK”.  For everyone else it is not so easy.  Not everyone has the freedom, the means or the opportunity to do something about the fact that they are ‘not OK’.  

And what if our own employer is also feeling ‘not OK?’  Where is the balance between putting our own mental health first while being mindful of the stresses that others may be suffering. Are we in danger of moving beyond self-care into self-centred care? 

SMEs employ 60% of the UK workforce – and 96% of businesses employ less than 10 people.  When we are “not OK” then our businesses are at serious risk – as are the jobs of the people who work there.  If employees are encouraged to put their mental health before their work – what happens when their employers start to do the same? 

Last year I had an emotional breakdown over Christmas.  My once profitable business ravaged by Covid, Brexit and soaring overheads.  The stress and worry was unbearable and for weeks I was a sobbing insomniac.  All I wanted was to close the business and return to a healthier state of mind.

In other words - I was far from OK.

If had followed the advice to ‘put your mental health before your career’ then I could have closed the business, sold off my stock and enjoyed some ‘self-care’. 

And four people would have lost their jobs.

I don’t think my team know how ‘not OK’ I was, nor do I believe that it would have been appropriate to tell them.  But there was only one reason that I battled on and it was my loyalty to staff who deserve my commitment.  How many business owners have done the same?

I despair over these blanket posts which imply that employers are a commodity to be picked up and let down whenever things are not so good. In response I would simply offer the following caveat.

Putting your own mental health before your career is fine advice – but spare a thought for the thousands of employers who are putting your job before their own mental health.

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