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indicatorPeople and Culture

Achieving personal well-being and work-life balance as an entrepreneur

By ATB Financial 15 July 2020 7 min read

Managing a business is loaded with many priorities, such as finding staff, sourcing funding, and designing your products or services. What often gets lost among the bustle of it all is key consideration of mental health and wellbeing for both you and your team.

How can you develop coping strategies to manage mental health effectively while also addressing the personal wellbeing of the team members throughout your organization? What are some warning signs you can spot if you think employees may be facing mental-health issues but have been silent about them? And what kind of resources should be made accessible to your staff who feel the heaviness of depression or severe stress weighing them down?

Helping startup founders understand and improve mental health in the workplace

If you’re neck-deep in the startup life and you’re a key player on your team, there’s a strong chance you might be facing the kind of stress that could lead to something more severe. A major report from the Canadian Mental Health Institute found that three out of five entrepreneurs they surveyed felt depressed at least once a week. Also, more than half (54 per cent) of the entrepreneurs found that stress impacted their level of concentration at work.

Sometimes, it’s about finding that work-life balance so your career doesn’t overtake other priorities. A 2018 survey by ATB of Alberta businesses reported that 71 per cent of respondents “typically place the needs of their business ahead of their personal needs.”

If you run a business you’re simply the kind of person who embraces risk, and being open to failure is part of who you are, says Kerilee Snatenchuk, Director of People and Culture at ATB. “This is where boundaries become important,” she goes on to say, “and setting those boundaries between your personal life and the business life is important even before getting that first customer.”

Some simple actionable exercises include ignoring work emails after 6 p.m., prioritizing family time on weekends, engaging in regular physical exercise, eating right, and keeping social connections strong with friends and colleagues.

Fighting the stigma of stress

Bearing more responsibilities than you expected could lead to overwork burnout and eventually high levels of anxiety. If you’re ever felt your chest constrict from trying to tackle a variety of tasks you can’t finish on time, imagine facing that pain regularly and you’re close to understanding how some people struggle with an issue that can’t be solved by a quick fix.

If you find yourself in that situation, don’t feel like you’re alone on an island; many people are in your situation because today’s work culture demands 24/7 communication and vigilance, which can be draining on even the most night-owl among us.

When facing a mental health issue, speaking with a trusted friend or clinician might be exactly what you need to get back on track when life feel like they’re off the rails.


If you have a trusted relationship with a work colleague, opening up to someone who understands your work situation could also feel validating.

As if handling your own mental wellbeing wasn’t enough, as a manager, you also have to be keeping your eyes open for anything that looks wrong among your staff.

Be sure you give the right tasks to the right people but also realize how much of a load you might be bringing to someone’s desk.

Also, some staff might not always be open to sharing how they feel about their mental health. It’s a private problem and it also carries the stigma of a host of negative traits.

Stephen Liptrap, CEO and president of Morneau Shepell, told Canadian HR magazine HRD: “I always use the example that if someone walks into an office with a broken leg, we all know what to do, what to say and how to act. But when someone walks into a room who has a mental health issue – many of us panic and leave them alone, which is not necessarily the right response.”

So forward-thinking leaders should provide a way for employees to speak out against that stigma, which you can do by offering online platforms for anonymous submissions and open-door policies that can make them feel comfortable sharing their experiences.Finding the warning signs behind mental health challenges

It’s also important for entrepreneurs to know the signals their staff may be passing along to them, intentionally or not, that reveal mental health issues. Snatenchuk suggests checking in with in-office and remote-work staff as often as possible.

“If there is a notable behavior change in someone, you could see that even in a video-conference meeting, for example,” she notes. “Are they not smiling or not looking well-dressed? Do they look nervous or are they talking about anything but work, perhaps externalizing their own fears in some way?”

Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, if your company staff usually dresses casually in the office and suddenly an employee comes into a conference room or Google Hangout meeting with a suit and tie, “that may tell you too that something is off,” Snatenchuk adds.

Mental health strategies are a business priority

When Michael Tighe, who leads the communications and design firm Solid, told his story of facing depression to ATB in 2018, he offered a great piece of advice he learned during his ordeal: A successful business isn’t measured by its leaders standing up to the tidal waves of challenges to part the seas time after time.

“To me, what it really means is your ability to bend and not break,” he said.

Tighe says you have to find that work-life balance that enables a healthy career and a nurturing home life.

Snatenchuk suggests business owners develop support networks designed to lead initiatives focused on mental health education. At ATB, she recognizes the value in an employee resource group such as the Mental Health Action team whose 600 members meet regularly to “discuss grassroots issues in mental health facing the organization, and also provide input on potential ways to address these issues.”

Going hand-in-hand with such policy-making is training, which shouldn’t just be one-off sessions but an all-in project to ensure everyone is aware of the many angles related to mental health challenges.

Training should be as thorough as possible and designed to educate all departments on the right approaches for the right situation, which may call for interactive role-playing or modeling.

It’s ideal if participants can share best practices and continue developing as resource-equipped active listeners who are sympathetic to the the needs of employees undergoing mental health challenges.

Leading your team through social health counseling

If you’re managing teams, it can be a juggling act, but you shouldn’t forget the importance of appreciating what your staff is doing for your company. Relationships are built on trust and respect, which means extending those same courtesies to your staff as they do to you, as their boss. That appreciation can help stave off negative experiences that could end up hurting your employee’s wellbeing.

The head of human resources at Landmark Health agreed, saying in an interview, “If somebody feels like the work that they’re doing is not valued, if they personally don’t feel like they have a voice at the table, if they feel like they’re dictated to or micromanaged, they’re going to feel less fulfilled and more tired.”

It’s also been shown that mental health programs can have a significant ROI. A 2019 report found that there are $6.3 billion in indirect costs coming from lost productivity due to 500,000 Canadians unable to work each week because of mental health problems or illnesses. As they describe it, useful workplace mental health programs usually include a mix of “leadership training, education initiatives, employee and family assistance programs (EFAP), psychological care benefits, processes for leaving and returning to work, and policies that promote mental wellbeing.”

For business owners and leaders looking for individualized support or how to integrate mental health initiatives throughout their organizations, the Canadian Mental Health Association can be a fantastic place to get the right insights, tools and resources to begin learning about a key pillar in work-life balance.

For a complete exploration around how you can set yourself up for success as you continue to embark on your entrepreneurial journey, both in the short and long-term, download our Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business.

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