Managing others for small business owners

Small businesses are often described as being family-like and as the employer, you  may find that you have close ties with your staff. Sometimes, these close ties may help you to recognise when one of your staff is not themselves.

You may notice changes in behaviour, including;

  • coming in late, or taking days off for no reason
  • making more mistakes than usual
  • being irritable with you or other staff members
  • interactions with clients that result in complaints
  • just not seeming themselves.

While this doesn't mean they have a mental health condition, having a conversation and checking in with them to see if they are okay can make a real difference.


It is also a good idea to learn more about mental health conditions like anxiety and depression to help with your understanding of what your staff might be experiencing, and to learn the signs and symptoms so you can recognise early if they might be struggling.

If one of your staff is struggling, you can play an important role in supporting them.  This may involve making temporary adjustments to help them at stay at work, or supporting them while they are away  from work.

"We support people, talk to them and provide days off/adjusted hours if needed, to receive treatment or deal with a certain situation. (I) have had staff deal with bereavement, anxiety, abusive partner - (and) all need a different approach."

- Rob, small business owner



Potential barriers to supporting someone in a small business

Offering support to someone in your small business can be difficult. You may be concerned that;

  • you don't know how to start the conversation
  • you will be seen to be prying into their personal life
  • they will become angry or upset with you, making the situation worse
  • you do not have the skills or resources to support them if they are struggling
  • it will negatively impact on your business, i.e. impacting on deadlines and meeting customers needs
  • it will require additional resources, time and money.



Advantages to supporting someone in your small business

There are many reasons why it is important to support someone, including;

  • you may be the only one who notices they are struggling
  • you may be able to assist them to get the treatment and support they need
  • you may be able to make small changes in their job that assists them to get well and stay well
  • you value your staff, remember they are your biggest asset
  • you want to have a workplace where everyone looks after each other
  • if you support someone, they are more likely to be loyal to you and your business

When someone working in your business is struggling, your first instinct might be to worry about your business, and this is completely normal. But by supporting staff, you will also be supporting your business in the long run.


Watch Richenda's video to see ways she supports staff in her small business

Learn more about Healthy workplaces - information for small business



How to have a conversation with someone in your small business

If you are genuinely concerned about someone in your small business, approach them and start a conversation. It's important to understand their situation and offer them support.

Planning the conversation

When you are planning to approach someone, it can be helpful to consider;

  • when and where you should have a conversation. This can be tricky in a small business, where there may not be additional space for private meetings. You may need to go for a walk away from other staff and distractions of the business
  • what support services may be helpful

"It's just about being a good listener ... People just want to be heard, people just want you to know 'hey, I am having a hard time'..."

- Rebekah, freelancer

What to say

Don't worry if you don't quite know what to say, just be supportive and listen.


How to start

  • There's no one right way to express things - the main thing is to be thoughtful and genuine.
  • You don't need to have all the answers - it's about the conversation and the support you offer by talking.
  • Say what feels comfortable for you.
  • If what you say doesn't sound quite right, stop and try again. It doesn't have to be the end of the conversation.

Listen carefully

  • Remember that this is their story, so don't try to guess how it plays out. Instead, listen and ask questions.
  • Be aware of your body language. To show you're listening, try to maintain eye contact and sit in a relaxed position.
  • Repeat back your understanding of what they've said and make sure it's accurate.


Think about the best way to respond. You can't fix things, but you can help them along the way. You might:

  • decide that today you're just there to listen and offer support
  • talk about it again another time
  • keep checking in with them
  • reassure them that you'll respect their privacy
  • think about what they need now and ask what you can do to help.


What to do next

  • Discuss options for further support.
  • Finish the conversation with a plan/next steps.
  • Appreciate that they opened up and shared their story with you.
  • Decide when to check in with them again.

Look after yourself

  • If the conversation has worried you, think about how you can relax or debrief.
  • Talk to someone for support and/or advice but remember to respect the person's privacy.

Unexpected outcome?

  • If they don't want to speak about it, respect their choice, but leave the door open for further dialogue.
  • You may need to have a few tries to open a conversation.
  • Just by showing support and offering to talk, you can make a difference. The person might take action at a later stage or continue the conversation with others.