How prioritising wellness leads to small business success
Increasingly, boutique firm leaders and small business owners are not only becoming aware of the need to accommodate for holistic wellbeing needs, they are cognisant of its inextricable nexus to the success of that business, writes Jerome Doraisamy.
The modern professional marketplace, across industries, is an intellectually stimulating and professionally rewarding beast, with myriad opportunities for individuals to flourish in ways that make the most sense to them. There continues to be rapid movement away from what we understand to be more traditional modes of work and headwinds towards greater flexibility, remote work and new-age business strategies.
Operating in tandem to such business evolution (albeit not in connection) we have seen growing awareness of the prevalence, causes and effects of psychological distress, anxiety, depression and other related ailments in professional services. Industries such as law and financial services have made admirable strides at addressing such health concerns, but there remains a way to go.
But while stepping away from the big end of town can alleviate the pressures experienced in such workplaces, small business owners cannot be immune to the idiosyncratic factors in their own environments that can adversely impact upon wellness.
To unpack the issues and challenges faced by the SME space, and how best firm owners and leaders can manage the health and wellbeing of themselves and their staff – so as to improve business prospects – we spoke with Clarissa Rayward, director of Brisbane Family Law Centre, and Nancy Youssef, founder of Classic Finance Group and Classic Mentoring & Coaching.
In a nutshell, what are the biggest wellness issues that small businesses, and their owners, face?
For Ms Rayward, the need to wear many hats can be burdensome, in that one has be the owner, head of HR, marketing, operations, among other titles.
“What I feel adds to this sense of pressure is the pace that business is conducted in our world today. Thanks to email/social media/the online sphere, the expectations that we are sitting, waiting to respond at all times are becoming very onerous,” she said.
“There is a sense that your work just goes with you everywhere you take your phone, meaning that it can be very easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed if you don’t build in routines and rituals to combat these stressors.”
On top of this, many small business owners are time-poor, Ms Youssef added, as a result of juggling all business aspects and constantly reacting and shifting their daily priorities.
“This means that at times, the most important things to us personally can get put on the back burner – and many times that includes exercise, eating well and even just mental downtime,” she explained.
“I myself have experienced this, particularly after stressful days, where it's easier to just go home and have a glass of wine or skip the workout after work so you can spend another hour at the desk. Stress, overwhelm and juggling a multitude of tasks can result in poor diet choices and lack of exercise, leading to health issues, as well as impacting your quality of sleep.”
“Small business owners can be exceptionally hard on themselves when they don't feel like they have it altogether.”
What works and doesn’t work when it comes to combating these wellness issues faced by small businesses?
In response to time management and workload struggles, Ms Youssef has learned that short-term fixes don’t work.
“Finding sustainable, affordable and manageable solutions is better than the miracle diets, short spurts of yo-yo dieting, gyms, personal training etc. It is better to make small changes over a period of time, rather than trying to fix everything in one go,” she advised.
“At times, a reality check may kick in or a wakeup call may prompt some changes, and it's best not to ignore the signs in these situations, but overall, making small and consistent changes is the key to success.”
Ms Rayward supported this, saying that SME leaders have to appreciate that their work will always feature a lawyer of stress and pressure which is ever-changing.
“Coming to accept that there will always be something that is making things tricky has really helped. Talking with other small business owners enabled me to realise I am not alone, and these issues are not of my causing – it is just the joys of people and business.”
Secondly, taking ownership of the things one can control and delegating accordingly, so that one can focus on leading the organisation and not trying to do everything along the way, is crucial, Ms Rayward added.
“Creating rituals in my own day that ensure I am stepping away from my work, leaving my phone and all the emails and fun that come with it aside so I can be present with my family and ensuring that I ‘fit my own mask first’ when it comes to my personal health and wellbeing, have all made a big difference.”
What are the dangers of not effectively managing your own wellbeing as a small business leader, but that of your staff?
On this question, both professionals said leaders have to set the tone.
“If you want your team to focus on their own health and wellness you have to do it too and that should never be a challenge, it should be joy,” Ms Rayward submitted.
“We cannot help others if we are not operating at the best of our own abilities and so having strong routines that ensure you are getting quality sleep, eating well and exercising are essential to operate in the high-pressure world we live in.”
Ms Youssef agreed: “Your staff are more likely to respect and "buy in" to initiatives around wellness when they see you proritising your own health and wellbeing. Health is important, and it all starts with you.”
Conversely, what are the flow-on benefits and opportunities for such wellness management?
On the flipside, catering more effectively to the unique workplace needs of staff members and one’s self helps build the culture SME leaders want to create, Ms Youssef posited, as it demonstrates care for not only the health and stability of the staff, but of the business itself.
“In most SMEs everyone is already outputting 150 per cent and when one person is away (especially for prolonged periods of time), it can have a bigger impact on the rest of the team, efficiency and increased workload that everyone needs to assist with. Unlike corporations where it is easy to replace or cover absences, small businesses just don't have that luxury,” she said.
This was backed by Ms Rayward, who mused: “Studies internationally show that a healthy workforce means increased engagement and productivity which means increased profit so from the intangible benefits of being around people who are ‘happier’ to the very tangible benefits of increased financial rewards. We should all be focused on building high performing and healthy teams in our workplaces.”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in balancing wellness considerations with business success?
On reflection, Ms Rayward said she’s had to live with the fact that her ‘to-do list’ will always be never-ending.
As such, she suggests that business owners and SME leaders “be at one with the idea that you could sit at your desk all day every day and there would still be more to do so never forget it will be there tomorrow- head home, be with the people that matter and look after yourself along the way”.
For Ms Youssef, a wake-up call arrived in the form of a broken foot at a time in which she had not been suitably prioritising self-care.
“This event floored me for six weeks and during this time I had to address my own health and question the choices and life I was living...so those small subtle changes started to happen in gradual steps, and my whole life changed as a result,” she recounted.
“I now exercise almost every morning; I no longer eat food that doesn't serve my health and am very mindful of the impact of stress on my body. I have made changes, so I get more time working from home and I've become choosier about the clients and activities I take on in the business.”
Small business owners and leaders in the boutique space cannot succeed over a long period of time without commensurate attention being paid to the broader, holistic wellness needs of staff and the workplace. With a million and one tasks to be attended to at any given time, it is clear that a surefire way to burn out – both yourself and the business – is to ignore such base needs. But, more optimistically, such attention to wellness can have a lasting impact on future success.
As Ms Youssef surmised: “It has been a gradual process over a couple of years. Bigger revenue is not always the aim on the game: focus on health, followed by profit over revenue. The rest will come!”
Jerome Doraisamy, senior writer, Momentum Media