We’ve heard a lot about loneliness over the past 15 months. Mental health in general has, rightly, occupied a lot of column inches during the pandemic. Understandably, there has been a focus on the mental health of NHS staff and frontline workers, as well as those people living alone. Much has been written about people unable to visit elderly relatives – or avoiding the risks associated with visiting them.
Little, though, has been written about the mental health of entrepreneurs and business owners. We’re not talking here about people running multi-million pound businesses: rather the small shopkeeper, the pub landlord wondering if and when the doors will reopen, the startup entrepreneur wondering if they’ll be able to persuade their staff to return to the office…
These are the people the Government are hoping will rebuild the UK economy and – one day – pay the bill for Covid. Are they going to be in the right state of mind to do that?
Over the last 15 months owners and directors of SMEs have faced challenges they could never have anticipated: the first lockdown, wrestling with the complexities of furlough, losing clients and customers, wondering when it might all return to normal, unprecedented levels of borrowing, the easing of lockdown, and that was all before the second wave…
Even now, with the vaccine roll-out and the prospect of ‘Freedom Day’, there are difficult questions to answer. “Should I insist that all my staff get vaccinated? Am I legally entitled to do that? Can I insist that everyone comes back to the office?”
Much has been written about a return to normal. It seems increasingly certain that a “new normal” is far more likely. But for people running the UK’s SMEs, the definition of “new normal” seems to change on an almost daily basis.
Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of the UK economy. According to the Federation of Small Business (FSB) there were 5.94m small businesses in the UK at the start of 2020. They account for 60% of the employment and half the turnover of the UK’s private sector – estimated at £2.3tn by the FSB.
If the economy is to recover to pre-Covid levels then the health – especially the mental health – of the people running these businesses is crucial. Let us hope that in the coming months the problem is more widely acknowledged in Government, and covered by the mainstream media.