In the bustling world of small business, a little-known fact remains hidden beneath the surface: many of Australia's small business owners are currently locked in a battle with their mental health.
Though they make an easy target as visible members of the community, they are not immune to the anxieties of not being able to pay their mortgages or put food on the table for their families. Amid constant interest rates rises, an out-of-control cost-of-living crisis, and a looming climate of economic uncertainty, they are just as vulnerable as anyone.
Yet they are often the recipients of misplaced frustration and anger. While their visible success is envy-inducing, their hard work and sacrifice remain invisible. Misconceptions about the stability or financial status of small business owners only adds fuel to the fire.
Small business owners, particularly those who manage to navigate the challenges of a downturn, may be seen as privileged or fortunate. This belief is frequently paired with a fundamental lack of understanding of the immense risk and relentless effort required to run a business.
Here are some facts: 97.5 per cent of all businesses in the country, accounting for approximately 2.5 million enterprises, are small businesses.
Behind each shopfront, whether it be an e-commerce operation or a traditional bricks-and-mortar store, is a small business fighting to survive in unprecedented conditions.
Their workload is enormous and their days are long. Unlike employees, they are in the untenable position of having to work tirelessly for little to no pay, while their profit margins dwindle each day. Yet small business owners are Australia's biggest employer, giving jobs to 5.1 million people and contributing half-a-trillion dollars to the economy.
According to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average salary for full-time workers in Australia hovers around $94,000, with a median of 38 working hours per week. In stark contrast, Glassdoor figures reveal small business owners earn an average of $80,000 annually, despite toiling beyond the confines of regular 9-to-5 hours, seven days a week.
The relentless pursuit of success comes at a heavy cost. Loneliness and isolation plague small business owners, exacerbated by the weight of overwhelming financial pressures. The combination of these factors create a pressure-cooker environment, pushing small business owners perilously close to burning out, or worse.
Unlike their employees, small business owners do not enjoy the safety net of sick leave, maternity leave, holiday pay, or any of the many other benefits workers often take for granted.
Moreover, they face the risk of being misled by ill-informed advice, placing their businesses in jeopardy due to a lack of knowledge and support. Such vulnerability is heightened during periods of economic volatility, where small business owners must navigate treacherous waters alone, without assistance.
A show of support for small business owners
Findings of a government survey show there are high levels of poor mental health within the small business community. The survey revealed a little over one in five small business owners said they had been diagnosed with a mental health condition by a doctor or health professional in recent months.
The true figure according to some industry groups rises to as high as one in three. Though there's clearly a need for mental health initiatives tailored to small business owners, their interests remain sitting at the bottom of the totem pole.
Business owners also face myriad barriers to accessing support: 54 per cent of owners said they lacked the funds, 49 per cent lacked time, and 39 per cent said they worried the services they accessed wouldn't understand the realities of small businesses.
To mitigate these challenges and protect their mental wellbeing, small business owners need their community to back them. They also need a supportive network of fellow entrepreneurs - a tribe of like-minded individuals who understand the unique struggles they face.
Only through connecting with others who share their experiences can they find the solace and strength required to get through tough times.
It's high time we shed light on the silent struggles of Australian small business owners and give them the support they deserve. We must recognise their immense contributions to our economy, applaud their resilience, and extend a helping hand.
Small businesses have long played a vital role in driving innovation, creating jobs, and contributing to the fabric of local communities. Attacking small business owners may be a convenient outlet but supporting them during challenging times fosters goodwill and hastens economic recovery.
Ultimately a little less judgement and a lot more sympathy is what's really needed for this most hardworking group of people.
- Amanda Rose is the founder of Small Business Women Australia.