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“Only Inanimate objects do not suffer from stress” A quote from my doctor when I went many years ago to discuss knee pain. It struck me as a rather odd thing to say but as we approach the middle of May 2019 and reflect back on April, which was Stress Awareness Month, what is it about life today that has almost 600,000 workers in 2017/18 reporting that they were suffering from work related stress, depression or anxiety?

The figures from the HSE’s report “Work related stress depression or anxiety statistics in Great Britain, 2018” make for interesting reading. The figures collected from the Labour Force Survey which make up the report show that a staggering 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety (SDA) and it seem that 44% of these were attributed to workloads. It was also accountable for 57% of all absences based on ill health. The figures don’t appear to have shown any significant change year on year over a three year period but are nonetheless on the increase.

Unsurprisingly incidences of SDA are more prevalent in the public service sector – health and social care, education, public administration and defence. Over the three year period of 2015/16–2017/18, the reported cases of SDA across all industries was 1,320 per 100,000 workers, yet in health and social care it was 2,080 while education workers reported 2,100 instances per 100,000 workers.

It would seem that it is not easy dealing with the general public and the figures support the narrative often seen in news reports of staff feeling undervalued, overworked and ill-supported. The ever-changing reporting and measurement requirements that successive governments also introduce will do little to help the sense of job satisfaction in the public sector. If you are constantly hearing that your sector is failing to meet targets and objectives, the cumulative negative effect is understandably likely to manifest itself in staff feeling stressed, anxious or depressed.

Interestingly, the HSE report further analyses the data by gender and age. Again the data supports the broad stereotypical generalisation that women are born worriers: statistics for females aged between 25-34 show reported cases of SDA at 2,080 per 100,000 workers, rising to 2,490 for those between aged 35-44. For men the figures are 1,300 and 1,650 respectively. Is it that women are worrying more about work, raising a family and finances than their male counterparts or is it that they are simply more open and honest in recording their feelings?

For both males and females, those within the 16-24 age bracket report had statistically lower instances of SDA of 760 and 1,250 per 100,000 workers respectively.

Small sized workplaces (less than 50 employees) would appear to be happier places to work when compared to larger workplaces (250+ employees) with a difference of 910 fewer cases of workplace SDA.

Whilst it is clear that people are reporting instances of SDA and the most frequent cause identified as managing workloads, particularly in relation to tight deadlines, the report recognises that stress is difficult to measure. It is very much a personal and subjective matter, as is an individual’s pain threshold for example. I often wonder how those working in the emergency services are able to cope on a daily basis dealing with being called out to harrowing scenes, not knowing what they will face until they get there. The responsibility and stress levels associated with their work in my opinion are incredibly high. How can you compare and contrast that with the stresses faced by small business owners such as managing finances, finding new business to keep their employees in a job – as stressful perhaps but in a different way?

Business owner-managed businesses can find their positions lonely and isolating which can itself cause stress for them. Whilst the reason for setting up in business itself would undoubtedly include that they are good, or more likely expert, in their chosen field, it comes with other expectations: staff automatically expect the boss to know exactly what to do in all cases. Decision making is more stressful if there is no-one to share the responsibility with. It is often for these reasons that business owners advocate finding a mentor to offer help, guidance and often to be a sounding board.

There are many reasons why people choose to go it alone – for some it is for the ability to be able to choose working hours to fit around their family. For others it may have come about due to redundancy from a previous position. It doesn’t matter what prompted the decision, everyone will admit to feelings of stress, depression or anxiety at some point when it comes to reflecting on the decision – if they don’t, they would be lying!

As well as the importance of finding a suitable mentor to help reduce the sense of isolation, small business owners – and also particularly the self-employed – can reduce stress by recognising that is not a sign of weakness or failure to call upon the services of an expert where they would otherwise be struggling. Dealing with accounts, wages HMRC regulations etc are often outsourced without a second thought. It is logical to take the same approach in other areas where those with better or more experience might be able to help you thereby allowing you to concentrate on what you are good at. Provided the maths make sense, the question is why would you struggle?

Owner-manager of Banks’ Business Solutions, Sarah’s journey will be familiar to many female start-ups:

“One of the reasons I started my business was due to the stress of trying to juggle work and home life. Being self employed has alleviated a lot of that stress as it has enabled me to work flexibly around my family and has even given me the freedom to travel – last year, I was lucky enough to be able to go overseas with my family for three months.”

Whilst not all self-employed or small business owners may be quite as fortunate to be able to manage a three month break, Sarah acknowledges that work related stress can be debilitating:

“Work related stress is very real and can be debilitating but when people think about it, they usually think of people who work in offices and not the self-employed, who are the people I predominantly work with.

Self-employment does eliminate some stresses but it can bring with it other worries, as everything rests on one person’s shoulders. Lots of people can feel that they need to be experts in everything, something that they may not have experienced in larger organisations where they will have somebody looking after marketing and another person managing IT and finance.”

“Part of my role as a virtual assistant is to take away some of that stress. I feel that mental health is an important topic and I hope that the downloads I have created to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of my decision to go it alone, will help people with their workloads. The resources cover the five things that people normally come to me for help with including email organisation, Mailchimp, GDPR, websites and social media image sizing.”

It is often the ‘back office’ elements of running a business that small business owners and the self-employed often struggle with. The non-glamourous yet necessary tasks that are needed to keep the wheels oiled and the business ticking over can end up causing stress. Recognising that it might be better to outsource can help restore balance and allow small business owners and the self-employed to do more of the things that they love, the things which prompted their decision to set up in business.

To take advantage of the free downloads Sarah has created, visit

Suzanna Bailes

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