“Now more than ever, small business owners must prioritise their own mental health and the mental wellbeing of their employees”.

Gareth Oakley
Managing Director Business Banking in Retail Bank
04 February 2022
6 min read


Over the last two years or so, the onslaught of coronavirus has triggered widespread anxiety across the globe.

And while restrictions have of course been necessary to help curb the devastating physical impact of the virus, they also came at a high cost to the economy and UK businesses – particularly small to medium-sized companies (SMEs) in the travel, retail and hospitality sectors.

Perhaps one of the most damaging effects of the pandemic, though, is the toll it’s taken on our collective mental wellbeing. At the time of writing, the severest restrictions have all but lifted. And focus is shifting towards issues such as rising inflation, increased living costs and soaring energy bills. 

But the fact is, the number of adults facing some form of depression has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic, according to new figures by the UK Government.1

Moreover, the worries of those suffering mental health issues would have only been compounded by the general uncertainty, isolation and barrage of negative news over the last two years. 

It follows that businesses will need to find ways to safeguard their own mental wellbeing, as well as the mental health of their employees. 


Why it pays to safeguard and improve mental wellbeing

With this in mind, we recently spoke to over 1,500 SMEs to understand more about the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of both business owners, and employees. 

Incredibly, half of those surveyed told us that they’ve had to deal with staff wellbeing issues in the last year, with staff citing pressure and increased workload as the main reasons for their decline in mental wellbeing. 

These results are stark for two reasons. First, they point towards a decline in confidence, motivation and moral in the workforce. Then, there’s the financial impact this might have on the business.

Indeed, according to analysis by Deloitte, poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion per year. Yet for every £1 spent on supporting employees’ mental health, employers get £5 back on their investment due to lower staff turnover and less time off work.2

With this in mind, it’s vital that business owners make improving the mental wellbeing of their workforce a priority – for the health of their staff, as well as their own bottom line.


According to analysis by Deloitte, poor mental health costs UK employers up to

£45 billion 

per year



Growing depression

As we say, the number of adults facing some form of depression has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. And almost half of adults in the UK said that their wellbeing has been affected in some way.3

Moreover, increased pressure and heavy workloads were reported by staff across various industries as the key reasons for stress. Even more worrying, as many as 20% of respondents to our poll said they had personally became unwell due to pressure and stress at work. And 15% of respondents told us that they were worried they may become unwell in the future.

In terms of age, our research showed that those between the ages of 35 to 44 were most likely to have become unwell over the last two years, while people 55 and over were the least likely to fall ill. 

And our research also found that businesses in London were more likely to have difficulties around the health and wellbeing of staff, while the least impacted were businesses in the North of England. 


As many as

20% of respondents 

said they had personally been unwell due to pressure and stress at work



How can businesses best support staff?

According to the mental health charity Mind, 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don't feel they have the right training or guidance.4

Thankfully, there’s a wide range of support available to better understand the impact of mental wellbeing in the workplace. These include:


  • Mental Health UK (Mentalhealth-uk.org) – supports people affected by mental health problems including friends, family and carers. Working across the UK, they bring together over 40 years’ expertise to provide advice, information and support.
  • Mind (mind.org.uk) – campaigning for better mental health, Mind offers dedicated support for employees and employers seek to improve wellbeing in the workplace.
  • The Prince’s Responsible Business Network (bitc.org.u/report/mental-health-at-work-2019-time-to-take-ownership) – Business in the Community’s annual Mental Health at Work report shows how employers are aware of and are acting to improve mental wellbeing across their workforce – but cautions that urgent change is still needed.
  • Mental Health & Money Advice (mentalhealthandmoneyadvice.org) – thanks to the partnership between Lloyds Banking Group and Mental Health UK, they have developed a dedicated service to help people understand, manage and improve their mental health and money issues. The website offers tools, top tips and advice.
  • Headspace (headspace.com/work/resources) – Headspace is a global leader in meditation and mindfulness with hundreds of themed sessions on everything from stress and sleep to focus and anxiety.


Looking to the future

Here at Lloyds Banking Group, we know the importance of encouraging open conversations around mental health, and we offer support when our employees are struggling. 

Indeed, one of the best ways we’ve found to support conversations around mental health is by sharing case studies from leaders and colleagues, in the hope that their experiences can inspire others to seek support.

For example, in 2021 we launched ‘Safe Space’ to facilitate conversations between our black colleagues, allowing them to alleviate stress and focus on practical actions to help them improve their mental health. 

These proved to be useful for those involved, with employees reporting a 50% decrease in stress. We hope that what we learned about encouraging  honest and open discussions can inspire any employer, of any size, to create the best environment for their employees’ mental health. 


About the author Gareth Oakley

Head of Business Banking in Retail

Gareth's current role is Managing Director Business Banking where he has responsibility for more than a million business customers. He is also a trustee for the Lloyds Bank Foundation and Chairman of the UK Finance Commercial Product and Service board. 

Gareth has over 30 years of experience in banking and has run a number of large businesses within many of the Bank’s divisions including Retail Banking, Wealth Management and Commercial. 

He was also formerly Chairman of the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation (AMC) and Lloyds Banking Group Ambassador for the East.

Gareth's background Read less

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