Half of SME owners experienced poor mental health in the past 12 months

Approximately half of all self-employed people have experienced poor mental health within the past 12 months – 22% worse than the national average.

Simply Business, one of the UK's largest insurance providers for small businesses, has partnered with Mental Health at Work, a programme curated by leading mental health charity Mind, to conduct the research for the second year running.

Results from the survey of 519 micro-business owners (1-9 employees) and self-employed people showed marginal improvement in areas, including reduced stigma around mental health issues and increased understanding of resources, but painted an overall concerning picture.

Though a general feeling of stress (51%) is contributing to the compromised wellbeing of SMEs, high rates of anxiety, depression (30%), and isolation (17%) were cited as the most acute issues.

Because of poor mental health, a third (34%) of those surveyed find it difficult to concentrate, 32% fall back on unhealthy habits more (e.g. smoking, drinking, or eating unhealthily), and almost one in five (18%) had to adapt or reduce their working hours/hours of business.

Almost a third (30%) of those surveyed worked more than 46 hours per week - almost 10 hours more than the average working week for employed workers according to ONS data. This is only a small change from the 2023 survey, when 33% reported working over 46 hours, meaning SMEs are continuing to work overtime to compete with challenging economic conditions.

More than one in ten (12%) are worried about being unable to take a holiday (a drop from 15% in 2023), while 11% are worried about the future of their business - a slight increase from 9% of responses last year.

Mental health stigma remains in this community, but the survey shows some improved attitudes towards accessing resources, seeking help, and taking breaks. While more than a third (35%) of small business owners are unlikely or very unlikely to seek support for mental health from colleagues or peers, this is a drop from last year’s 45%.

32% say that they would still feel uncomfortable disclosing poor mental health to their employer, though this is a small drop from 35% last year. 15% say that they would feel ‘very uncomfortable’.

The Department for Business and Trade estimated in 2023 that there were almost 1.2 million micro-businesses (21% of the overall number of private businesses) in the UK employing almost 4.3 million people. In addition, there are 4.1 million businesses with no employees (74% of all private businesses). It continues to be economically and morally imperative that the needs of this important but vulnerable sector continue to be met.

"Our latest survey findings underscore the challenges faced by small business owners and the self-employed in maintaining good mental health," said Bea Montoya, UK COO at Simply Business. "While we're encouraged to see a marginal improvement - which can only be explained by the astounding resilience of the sector - the challenge for SME owners to prioritise their own wellbeing remains significant.

“This situation should concern us all. Small businesses are vital to both our economic recovery and the prosperity of our communities, and this will only compound the challenges of an increasingly economically inactive population.

“The message from the SME community is clear – they want to see more support from the government, and quickly. Simply Business is committed to advocating for the support and resources needed to ensure the resilience of small businesses across the country, and we fully back their call for more support.”

Sarah Merrington, Programme Manager at Mental Health at Work said "Our latest research, in partnership with Simply Business, highlights just how much support self-employed people and micro business owners need. Nearly half of respondents suffered work-related poor mental health in the last year, and without HR or sometimes even peers to turn to, they are often left to face this on their own.

“While it’s encouraging to see greater awareness of the resources, tools and techniques available for the self-employed, it’s clear that the government needs to do more. The UK’s entrepreneurs need to be supported to thrive so that they can reach their full economic potential."