Features - Business

Putting wellbeing at the top of the agenda

Anyone running a business in construction knows how tough it can be. Whether you’re ‘on the ground’ where the physical work can take its toll, or in a more senior role where you’re in charge of projects and managing customers, staff and contractors, pressures are constant. There is also the challenge of keeping on top of cashflow, which can be tough when materials and wages have to be paid ahead of payments coming in.

We speak to Steve Noble, Chief Operating Officer, Ultimate Finance about mental health in the industry.

Work stresses and worries aren’t just felt from 9-5; the overall wellbeing of small business owners can also be at risk. We surveyed SMEs around the UK – in construction and other key sectors – and found that often many take a disproportionate strain upon themselves, which can be detrimental to their health and happiness.

Lonely at the top

Running a business can be a lonely job. Our research found that nearly three quarters of small business owners admit to having felt lonely while running the business, with a third saying they regularly feel that way. And many feel that support around them is lacking; with three quarters saying they did not know where to turn to for support, beyond their family and friends.

Feeling under pressure and stress takes its toll mentally, affecting sharpness and performance. But it can also have physical effects. In fact, people who feel lonely are 30 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart disease (two of the leading causes of death in Britain) according to a study by the University of York.

Striking a healthy balance

This correlates with the findings from our own research, where we found that a third (30%) of small business owners in the UK have had a health scare since starting their business. This amounts to a staggering 1.8 million SMEs. In addition, almost three quarters (72%) of business owners and managers worry that their current work/life balance is having a negative impact on their health. The positive benefits of regular exercise and healthy eating are well documented, but a third of those surveyed struggle to find time to go to the gym or eat healthily.

It’s not just a spin class small business owners are missing out on. Perhaps the saddest statistic from our research is that almost half (46%) of SME owners in construction sector would miss some special family occasions such as birthdays due to business commitments.

Time to focus on wellbeing

When you consider there are over five million SMEs, we could be heading for something of a crisis, not just in construction but across the other sectors we spoke to, including transport, manufacturing and hospitality.
Wellbeing issues have risen up the public agenda significantly in recent years – especially an awareness of mental wellbeing issues – but it’s clear from our survey that there isn’t enough support available.

Raising awareness

We are committed to shining a spotlight on these issues, and encouraging the rest of the business community to do the same. As part of our campaign, we have launched an information hub with guidance from health experts and insights from experienced SME owners to support those in need of help.

We have also teamed up with business psychologist Robert Stewart on these issues, and he has this advice: “Many SME owners focus on the needs of the business and their employees but fail to address their own personal needs. I would urge the UK’s SME community to take this research seriously and establish their own process for looking after themselves. This may be in the form of a personal wellbeing advocate who can ask them difficult questions about their work/life balance or simply by taking a more honest look at the way they work and creating boundaries.”

My message to owners and managers in the construction sector is: put your own wellbeing on the agenda this year. Sometimes you may feel like you have no option but to plough on and take everything upon yourself – but stepping back and making some positive changes could have benefits that can’t be measured in pounds.

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