Small business owners nearing a breaking point while struggling to support their employees’ mental health issues




After two years of rolling lockdowns and business restrictions, the pandemic has had a significant impact on small business owners. Half (50%) report difficulty coping with mental health challenges, according to a new report, Near the Breaking Point: Mental Health in Small Business, by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and Nexim Canada (PrimaSure).
These results shed light on the reality of small business owners’ pressures during the pandemic, including managing their employees’ mental health needs, staffing issues, reduced consumer spending, paying bills, growing debt and other worries.
“Owning and operating a business can be a very challenging and exhausting job. Business owners who are still struggling to reopen fully or return to normal revenues tend to be closest to burning out,” said Corinne Pohlmann, Senior Vice-President of National Affairs at CFIB. “In addition, business owners are struggling to take care of themselves while looking after their staff. There are limited mental health and wellness programs and initiatives aimed at smaller businesses, making it harder for them to access resources that might help.”
CFIB’s results show two-thirds (66%) of small business owners are close to burning out. But it is not just employers who are reeling from the pandemic.
Mental health concerns have also increased for employees over the course of the pandemic, with more employers aware that some of their employees are facing mental health issues in 2022 than in 2020 (54% and 35%, respectively).
Research shows there are fewer business owners accessing mental health information than dealing with mental health concerns in the workplace, as only one in three (37%) business owners are accessing mental health information for their employees and even fewer (27%) are seeking this support for themselves.
“The stress and struggles of the pandemic have hurt business owners’ capacity to take on those support roles for their employees,” Pohlmann added. “Small businesses don’t have dedicated human resources support and, when the owner is already under an extreme amount of stress themselves, it is not surprising that they feel less prepared to support their employees’ mental health.”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to addressing mental health issues in the workplace, but here are some recommendations and strategies business owners and employees can follow:
• Having an open dialogue within workplaces around mental health, getting to know one’s colleagues, and proactively seeking treatment.
• Considering cost-effective initiatives and supports that can be easily implemented when needed to support a positive workplace or a coworker struggling.
• Setting a good example of work/life boundaries that fit the business’s needs.
• CFIB is recommending all levels of governments and the mental health sector work together to support small businesses that want to strengthen and improve mental health conditions in their workplaces. CFIB provides its members with some tools and resources to support mental health in the workplace, including templates for a wellness policy and respectful workplace guidelines, and is excited to be working with Nexim Canada (PrimaSure) to develop a new online Wellness Hub to connect small business owners with these kinds of resources and information.

“Over recent years, disability incidence has increased dramatically, with mental health issues being the strongest driver of the increase. This trend has continued throughout the pandemic with new pressures becoming the catalyst for these mental health issues. In an effort to raise awareness, and put focus on an integral and essential component of health, we are proud to sponsor the CFIB mental health initiative,” said Briana Desormeau, Vice-President, Nexim Canada.

CFIB looks to the government and the mental health sector to share their expertise by:
• Evaluating existing programs to improve education, raise awareness, develop evidence-based resources, and provide training for a more positive impact on workplaces.
• Reducing red tape and paperwork burden involved in accessing mental health support to enable timely access and reducing wait times.
• Improving access to online resources and tools targeted specifically for small businesses
“Although small businesses may not always have the same resources as larger companies, working for a small firm has its own advantages. Being a part of a close-knit team allows small business owners to be more comfortable discussing mental health issues in the workplace,” Pohlmann concluded. “Giving them the tools to do that effectively can make it easier for owners to support themselves and their employees.”