Businesses urged to discuss mental health in face of bill shock

Other utilities and service providers say they’re also putting mental health front of mind on small business billing and say there is flexibility when small business owners struggle to fulfil commitments.


«We recognise that the demands SMB owners face place them under enormous strain,» Optus vice president of small and medium business, Matthew Ball says.

Optus says it will work one on one with business owners where billing concerns are related to or could have an impact on mental health.

«We work on a case-by-case solution to address the particulars of individual situations,» Ball says.

Energy Australia says it understands customers, including small businesses, can struggle to meet bill commitments «despite their best intentions».

«Our people are trained to show respect to people when they get in touch, because communication and trust are often barriers to addressing hardship,» chief customer service office Chris Ryan says.

Origin Energy says it trains front-line staff in the best way to support customers who may be experiencing mental illness. Small businesses that are struggling could receive extended payment plans on a case-by-case basis.

Stigma to admit struggles remains

Financial stressors continue to emerge as a top concern when business founders discuss mental health, says acting director of Everymind, Marc Bryant.

Acting director of Everymind, Marc Bryant.

Acting director of Everymind, Marc Bryant.

«It’s things like working in isolation, financial stressors and worrying about the impact of the business on others and letting down people that they’re working with,» he says.

Everymind has worked with the federal government over the past year to expand its Ahead for Business mental health program for smaller operators.

Bryant says that while the Australian public and big business accept that mental illness and hardship are issues, entrepreneurs don’t raise their hands enough to admit they are experiencing this.

«If you’re a sole trader, there’s nobody there to say things like ‘failure is an important tool’,» he says.

«There’s a broader piece of work we want to do, around having the right small business language, because stigma is so important.»

Small business owner, Peter McCarthy, who operates Precision Taxation, attended the roundtable this week and says while organisations like the ATO are flexible when it comes to mental health struggles, the fear of admitting this is real.

«There is such a reluctance to put your hand up — I think people want to be strong, for the business, their families, their employees,» he says.

Everymind is pushing for companies that regularly deal with small businesses to come up with clear guidelines for staff around the type of language they use when dealing with small business mental health.

«The duty of care should be first to do no harm. If you’re communicating to people on mental health, be careful on the language you use.»

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Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.

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