A global small-business owner wellness survey finds that managing employees’ mental health is a significant cause of stress among owners.

Xero’s “The Global State of Small Business Owner Wellbeing” report, which details the results of a survey of 4 600 small-business owners across seven countries, found that small-business owner wellbeing is currently below that of the general population in five of the seven countries – a result of the myriad challenges small-business owners are dealing with in 2023, including high inflation, slowing economic growth, concern about staff wellbeing and general uncertainty about the future.

The report found that of the seven countries surveyed, South African small-business owners reported the highest level of overall wellbeing using the internationally recognised World Health Organisation framework.

This may come as a surprise to South Africans, who face a myriad of socio-economic challenges including rising interest rates, loadshedding, and slow economic growth. The research indicates that small-business owners, despite these stresses, feel better off than the majority of the population.

But the report also shows significant causes of underlying stress. Examining specific stress drivers, the report found that work-related issues cause one-third of South African small-business owners stress in their personal lives most or all of the time. Nearly a third – 28% – feel stress due to managing employees’ mental health most or all of the time – the second-highest of all countries surveyed.

The report offers several recommendations to small-business owners looking to improve their sense of wellbeing, including investing in innovation, learning and upskilling, and establishing peer networks.

Notably, the report advised addressing the root causes of employees’ mental health issues and finding ways to alleviate the pressures of work on home life. These objectives can be accomplished through employee financial-support programmes that have been shown to reduce employee stress.

Earned wage access (EWA) allows employees early access to already earned wages. Employees who run short of cash before the next payment cycle have traditionally sought relief in the form of a payday loan – but this can have severe consequences. The providers of payday loans often operate informally and charge exorbitant interest rates. This can lead to a cycle of indebtedness, impacting financial, mental and physical health. EWA alleviates those monthly stresses.

Denise Neethling, head of marketing at Paymenow Group, says: “Financial stress can have a significant impact on an employee’s well-being and productivity. EWA can help alleviate this stress by providing employees with the ability to access their wages when they need it most, helping them pay bills on time, avoid late fees, and avoid taking on high-interest debt.”