New report on mental health reveals the toll of working for yourself

Beckett Frith
Beckett Frith

Senior Content Officer, Mental Health at Work

The mental health of small businesses owners and the self-employed often get overlooked when workplace interventions to support mental health are developed. That’s why Mental Health at Work have partnered with Simply Business to champion the mental wellbeing of the eight million people in this vital sector.

Our new report on mental health highlights some of the key concerns, areas that need improvement, and offers recommendations for making the workplace better for all.

Financial worries, anxiety and stress

The survey found that over half (56.07%) of micro-business owners have experienced poor mental health in the last 12 months. Shockingly, only 1 in 5 (20%) feel that running a business doesn’t have a negative impact on their mental health, or that it has a positive impact.

A range of issues were found to be contributing to the poor mental health of this group. For example, stress was prevalent for 64% of those surveyed.

Percentages of other reported issues are:

  • Anxiety (60%)
  • Financial worries (49%)
  • Insomnia/trouble sleeping (45%)
  • Depression (39%)
  • Burnout (33%)
  • Isolation and loneliness​Loneliness at work Web page Feeling lonely isn't in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Marmalade Trust, a charity dedicated to helping those who are experiencing loneliness, has created this guide to help you to combat loneliness in the workplace.Free By: Marmalade Trust View resource (22%)
A painter paints the outside of a house

Many people choose to become self-employed in order to exert greater control over their working lives and improve their work-life balance. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out to be the case. Only 25% of self-employed respondents ranked their mental health as ‘good’, according to Mental Health of Freelancers and the Self-Employed in a 2022 annual survey by Leapers.

This compares to a figure of 60% of employees overall who stated that they were generally happy at work, as uncovered in Mind’s 2021/22 Workplace Wellbeing Index Insight report.

Falling back on unhealthy habits

Because of poor mental health, 2 in 5 (41%) reported finding it difficult to concentrate. This could be having an impact on their physical health too, as 38% stated they cope by and falling back on unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking​How much is too much? Know your alcohol limits Web page Stress and anxiety can cause our use of alcohol to increase, and it's sadly all too easy to miss the signs that your drinking habits have become problematic. This might be even more of an issue for the fire service than it is for other industries.Free By: The Fire Fighters Charity View resource or eating unhealthily.

Over a quarter (26%) have had to adapt or reduce their working hours because of their mental wellbeing, while just under a fifth (19%) said that the standard of their work declined.

One of the people surveyed told the researchers that their family had complained about their long working hours, which suggests a difficultly managing their work/life balance. The majority of self-employed people and micro-business owners tend to work longer hours and take less time off than non-self employed workers, even when experiencing poor mental health.

A woman works late in a shop.

Many small business owners and self-employed people have their own strategies when it comes to self-care.

  • More than two thirds (71%) go outside during the working day/spend time in nature
  • More than a half (58%) make sure they take regular breaks, including for meals
  • Almost a half (45%) watch TV/films
  • Almost 2 in 5 (38%) connect with friends or family or exercise (36%)
  • Other strategies include: getting enough sleep​Sleep enablers and preventers PDF This one-page PDF offers advice on what behaviours can help you to have a good night's sleep, and which habits you might want to change.Free By: Unilever View resource, reading, learning new things, gardening, mindfulness and meditation and art and crafts.

These findings highlight the importance of promoting effective coping techniques and positive mental health practices that can concretely support the wellbeing of micro-business owners and the self-employed. Mental Health at Work and Simply Business’s online support hubs are developed as a place to curate and share such best practices.

A lot of pressure comes from factors outside of your control

While there are things business owners can do for themselves, we recognise a lot of pressure comes from factors outside of your control.

Our survey showed that only 1 in 10 (10%) of those surveyed think that the government does enough to support the mental health of micro-business owners.

We found that:

  • almost two thirds (62%) would like statutory sick pay for self-employed people to be introduced
  • about half (48%) would like better access to healthcare/mental health care
  • more than 1 in 5 (22%) would like increased access to education materials and resources
  • 1 in 5 (20%) would like an increased investment in occupational health services
A woman leads a yoga class from a stage.

So what steps can you take next?

Make sure you check out Mental Health at Work and Simply Business’s online support hubs for up-to-date, relevant and useful tips to support your mental wellbeing in your workplace, no matter how small it might be. You can also use the Mental Health at Work search bar if you’re looking for advice on a particular topic.

Read the full survey report here.

We’re working hard to influence government policy to help get the best outcomes for all UK workers. To keep up to date with what we’re doing, sign up to our newsletter here.

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