How Small Businesses Can Lead the Charge on Mental Health in the Workplace

This is a guest post from Luke Smith (see bio at the end) – Thanks Luke!

Mental health took a tumble during the pandemic. The global prevalence of anxiety and depression has increased by 25% in the past three years and many have had their lives disrupted by illness, global conflict, and international inflation. 

In the US, millions of adults report that their job is the biggest stressor in their lives. This may be due to unrealistic expectations, instability at work, or a general disinterest in the role they are in.

Small businesses are poised to lead the charge on mental health in the workplace. They can give each employee the attention they need and create bespoke packages for every member of staff. Working for a small business can be deeply rewarding, too, as folks know that their effort and contributions matter.

Mental Health Days

Large-scale enterprises rely on high operational efficiency to ensure that they remain profitable. This means that many big businesses cannot afford to give mental health days to their employees, lest they reduce profit margins. Small businesses, on the other hand, typically do not have to run at peak operational efficiency 24/7.

Business leaders can choose to prioritize employee wellness over profits by offering mental health days to all employees. Mental health days are designed to help employees recharge and take time to care for themselves. Research shows that employees who take this time for self-care often come back feeling energized and highly motivated to work. Arguably this means that they’ll contribute more in the long run with mental health days…

Small businesses can choose to incorporate these days off into existing sick pay schedules. Alternatively, they can create a new program that better suits the employee’s needs. Employees who take mental health days generally need to be paid for these days, as many employees can not afford to take unpaid time away from work.

Empathy and Culture

Small businesses are tightly knit, community-oriented enterprises. Everyone knows everyone else, and staff members are typically keen to support one another. Managers can leverage the close relationships that employees form at work to create a culture of empathy and kindness.

Empathy is widely defined as “the ability to sense other people’s emotions,” and “imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” This sounds straightforward, but it is easy to overlook when managers care more about profit margins and inventory than staff’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Managers must practice intentional empathy in the workplace. Being intentionally empathetic can help managers spot the early signs of burnout and can help folks achieve their professional aspirations.

Managers who empathize with their employees will get more from their staff, too. Employees who feel valued are more productive and are less likely to need time away from work. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that staff who felt valued at work were “more likely to report better physical and mental health.” Employees who felt valued were also more engaged in their work than their peers.

However, empathy alone is not enough. Business owners and managers that want to lead the charge on mental health must turn empathetic thoughts into real action. This starts with a robust benefits package that supports employees’ mental and physical well-being.


A robust healthcare package is highly motivating for employees. Surveys show that health insurance is the most valued benefit for employees as millions of Americans rely on their employers for healthcare coverage.

However, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not legally obligated to provide insurance coverage. Small businesses that do offer healthcare could be hesitant to change and may have been using the same providers and packages for years.

Investing in a new healthcare program is a great way to improve mental health in the workplace. Employees will feel more secure in the knowledge that they can get the help they need when they need it. Additionally, newer healthcare programs offer more robust mental healthcare support and ensure that employees can see mental health professionals on time.

Intervention and Getting Help

Research shows that managers and employees within small-to-medium-sized businesses neglect their mental health and routinely fail to get the health they need. This is a major issue in small businesses, as employees who try to work through depression and anxiety alone are far less healthy and productive.

Small businesses can lead the charge on mental health in the workplace by offering telehealth services to all staff. Remote therapy sessions can be conducted through sites like BetterHelp and Talkspace. Other alternatives for mental health help include ForHers/Mentalhealth and ForHims/Mentalhealth Employees can choose from a directory of therapists and find a mental health professional that suits them.

If managers and business owners notice that an employee’s mental health is taking a tumble, they can choose to intervene and get staff the help they need. Managers should not try to offer unsolicited life advice but should refer employees to the relevant healthcare providers that are covered under their benefits package.

Privacy Concerns

Getting help for mental health can be a nerve-wracking, sensitive journey. Unfortunately, many managers and business leaders are not properly trained to handle private information that pertains to employees’ mental well-being.

HIPAA does not apply to employers. However, many employers choose to hold themselves to the same high standard of confidentiality and privacy. This ensures that employees feel safe when seeking help and do not feel undermined when they divulge personal or private information to managers or coworkers.

Small businesses can encourage participation in mental health schemes by utilizing HIPAA-compliant data collection and documentation. HIPAA-compliant documents protect employees’ sensitive data by hiding identifying information and preventing unauthorized access. Investing in HIPAA-compliant documents shows that small business owners authentically care about privacy, mental health, and employee well-being.


Small businesses are in a great position to improve mental health in the workplace. Small business owners can lead the charge by offering paid leave for mental health days and adjusting their current benefits package to provide more robust coverage. Managers should be encouraged to adopt an ethos of empathy and should feel empowered to help employees who ask for aid. Small business owners can cut out office gossip by instilling a culture of care by maintaining HIPAA-level privacy.

Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business, technology, and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or getting into the latest tech.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

2 thoughts on “How Small Businesses Can Lead the Charge on Mental Health in the Workplace”

  1. Curt Steinlage says:

    Great article. Next steps are what many business owners need. Demonstrating empathy can be coached if we can reach our innermost feelings about our own feelings. I personally benefited from reading Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Affective People. Years later I took the Covey 2 day training and grew tremendously. The gift of listening to understand can really help an employer with his or her problem solving approach.

    1. S. Kinkade says:

      Curt – that’s a great idea / action item… it’s hard to be the 7 Habits for getting people to think about things differently. Thanks for the response.

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