As a small business owner, you’ll know the highs and lows of running your own company. And while rewarding, the stress and challenges associated with it can sometimes mean your or your staff’s mental health takes a toll.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, though, it’s that fostering a healthy work environment is beneficial to everyone. And everyone across the organisation, no matter how big or small, has a role to play.

Small businesses are often family-like in nature, especially in smaller working environments such as retail and salons, so it’s only natural to become close with staff. That, in turn, can see you in a position to recognise when someone isn’t being themselves.

So how do you approach staff mental health in your business? We spoke to Annabel Bowman from R U OK? who gave us some handy tips to get the conversation going.

A Helping Hand

If you’ve noticed someone hasn’t been their usual self, whether via their actions or words, it’s time to trust your gut instinct and take action. Perhaps they seem agitated, abrupt or withdrawn?

By asking “Are you OK?” and commenting on the changes you’ve noticed, you could help them open up.

If they say they’re not OK, you can follow our conversation steps to show them they’re supported and help them find strategies to better manage the load. If they are OK, they’ll know you’re someone who cares enough to ask.

Signs Your Staff’s Mental Health is Suffering

  • Unmotivated or moody
  • Coming in late or taking days off more regularly
  • Making more mistakes than usual
  • Being withdrawn and/or not engaging in conversation

There are many reasons someone may display one or more of the above signs. While it may be something small or short term, having a conversation about their mental health and letting them know they are supported can make a big difference.

If someone in your team is struggling, you may be able to make small changes in their job that help them get and stay well.

You can learn more about the signs someone might be struggling at

Ask “How are you travelling” or “You don’t seem yourself lately, I’ve noticed…”

Starting the Conversation

Once you’ve recognised that someone in your team may be struggling with their mental health, and have genuine concerns for their wellbeing, it can be difficult to know how to begin the conversation.

R U OK? has developed a four step framework to guide you through navigating a conversation with someone who’s not OK: remember ALEC.

  1. Ask R U OK?
    “How are you travelling?”
    “You don’t seem yourself lately, I’ve noticed…. Want to talk about it?”
  2. Listen with an open mind
    “I’m here to listen if you want to talk more”
    “Have you been feeling this way for a while?”
  3. Encourage Action
    “Have you spoken to your doctor about this?”
    “What do you think is a first step what would help you through this?”
  4. Check In
    “Just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing?”
    “Have things improved for you since we last spoke?”

Getting Advice

Small business owners wear many hats, but you might not have the specialist skills that a mental health professional or someone working in HR can use to address sensitive subjects.

If you’re not confident approaching the situation yourself, help is available. Organisations including Employee Matters and Ai GROUP offer consultation services to assist and provide peace of mind that you are doing the right thing.

You can also use the R U OK? four step framework, ALEC, to guide you through navigating a conversation with someone who’s not OK.

Supporting My Team, Supporting My Business

When someone in your team is struggling, it is normal to worry about the impacts it will have on your business, but by supporting your staff first, you will also support your business in the long-term.

Supporting staff’s mental health in your workplace:

  • Demonstrates that you value your staff and their wellbeing
  • Creates a more open and inviting workplace
  • Encourages others to speak up if they are struggling
  • Promotes a sense of loyalty to your business

For more information and resources about mental health in the workplace, visit

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