SME stress


5th July, 2024

Financial pressures weighing on mental wellbeing of local SMEs

Anxiety and depression are on the rise amongst New Zealand’s SME owners, according to new mental wellbeing insights from MYOB’s 2024 Business Monitor. 

The nationwide survey of 1000+ SME owners and decision-makers from across the country, reveals that more than a third of local SME owners (37%) have experienced a mental health condition since starting or taking over their business.  

Perhaps reflecting the impact of mounting financial pressures however, for business owners who have seen their revenue decline in the past year, the proportion who report experiencing a mental health condition increases to 45% – up from 35% a year ago.  

Of the SME decision-makers surveyed who have experienced a mental health condition, 77% report experiencing anxiety — up from 71% in 2023, while 47% have experienced depression — up from 44% in 2023.  

Emma Fawcett, MYOB General Manager — SME, explains that the pressure local business owners are under is immense and the severity of financial stress shouldn’t be underestimated.   

“For those running SMEs across the country, the financial burdens weighing on them are significant,” she says.

“On top of juggling rising costs, paying their people and keeping their business afloat, they’re also dealing with the cost-of-living pressures all Kiwis are experiencing right now. It’s a lot for anyone to carry on their shoulders and the impact this is having on their mental wellbeing is clear.  

“The past few years have been a long and constant uphill battle for New Zealand’s business owners and it’s devastating to see an increase in the number reporting anxiety and depression, but it’s important for them to realise they’re not alone and support is available — including resources specific to business owners, like First Steps and the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing.”  

SME stress

Work-related stress and taking time out

In addition to how many SME decision-makers have experienced a mental health condition, MYOB’s insights also explored which factors have negatively impacted their wellbeing in the last 12 months.

Nearly a third (32%) called out work-related stress, and the same proportion cited lack of sleep (32%), followed by personal finances (27%), general workload (25%) and political uncertainty (22%).  

To help improve or manage their mental wellbeing, more SME owners are turning to exercise (64%), followed by social time with friends and family (55%), and enjoying their hobbies or entertainment (49%).

Forty-three percent of business owners also say they are taking a break or taking more time out from the business — up five percentage points on last year (38%).  

“It’s heartening to see SME leaders taking steps to improve their mental health with a strong focus on work/life balance,” Emma says.

While it can be hard to step away from running your own business, even a few days of R&R can make the world of difference. 

“While methods to proactively manage mental wellbeing may differ in approach for each individual, it’s critical that local business owners can recognise when these actions aren’t delivering the boost they need and turn to professional support to get them through challenging times and feelings of overwhelm and distress.”     

Managing employees’ mental wellbeing 

In terms of how SME leaders are approaching mental wellbeing and support discussions with their team members or colleagues, the insights showed that just over a quarter (27%) of SMEs have had these types of conversations in the last 12 months — unchanged on 2023. 

Generational factors may be at play, in terms of those more comfortable and confident with open dialogue around mental health and financial pressures.

More millennial business owners (29-43 years old) have discussed mental wellbeing in the workplace (44%), compared to 30% of Gen X (44-59 years old) and 21% of Baby Boomers (60-78 years old). 

Shaun Robinson, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, says there is an urgent need for open, genuine, and non-judgmental discussions about mental health in the workplace.  

“Breaking the stigma surrounding mental health begins with creating an environment where employees feel safe to talk about their mental health without a fear of judgment,” he says.

“A key to this is recognising that our mental health is an asset, and we can have positive mental health as well as times of challenges.   

“Looking for ways to build wellbeing and positive mental health in the workplace, such as applying the Five Ways to Wellbeing, builds stronger people and teams, and makes talking about mental health less scary.

“Encouraging these conversations not only fosters a supportive work culture but also improves overall productivity and job satisfaction.” 

Robinson also notes that small business owners shouldn’t be afraid to lead by example.  

“Talking about their own ways of uplifting personal wellbeing, seeking support when needed and cultivating a culture where wellbeing is front and centre at work, are core to a well-functioning business,” he says. 

“Supporting small business owners’ mental health is vital for the resilience and success of their business, as healthy well-supported leaders are better equipped to navigate challenges and lead their teams effectively.”