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Two-thirds of small business owners close to burnout, despite pandemic restrictions easing

By Kevin Gallagher

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    May 6, 2022 (CTV Network) — After more than two years of rolling COVID-19 lockdowns, capacity restrictions, and supply chain disruptions, half of small business owners report difficulty coping with mental health challenges. The data, released by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and Nexim Canada, shows 66 per cent of small business owners are close to burning out, and report seeing a rise in mental health issues among their employees too. “For many small business owners it’s layered on with the fact they had to deal with closures. They’re not always sure how they’re going to get their next payroll together?” said Corinne Pohlmann, senior vice-president of National Affairs and Partnerships at CFIB. “If they’re going to find the employees that they need to get their business back up and running?” Employers surveyed say 54% of their workers are facing mental health challenges, a nearly 20 per cent increase from responses in 2020. “I wake up in the middle of the night with my gut twisting as I think about how much debt the business has incurred,” said Jason Komendat, co-owner of Ottawa Bike Café. His downtown Ottawa business has accumulated at least $120,000 in debt, as he tries to ride out the pandemic downturn. As office workers, and foot traffic, slowly starts to revive his business, Komendat has concerns for the health of his staff. “If we catch COVID,” said Komendat. “And the workforce is cut in half or more, we can’t operate.” Komendat says he is seeing a counsellor to help him cope, but he is in the minority. CFIB research shows fewer than 27 per cent of small business owners are seeking mental health support, and only one in three are providing employees with information and resources. To help managers, the Mental Health Commission of Canada created an online tool kit that launched during Mental Health Week, which runs May 2-6. The checklist provides advice on how to recognize whether their employees are struggling with mental health, how to defuse conflict and integrate new employees. President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada Michel Rodrigue says the free resource is especially useful, as more workplaces balance in-office workers and work-from-home. “You can better support your teams,” said Rodrigue. “And you can create psychologically safe workplaces for people to thrive.” With her online businesses growing, Alyssa James thinks a mental health resource like this “could prove very beneficial.” At the start of 2020, James turned her passion for cross-stitching into a custom order design company, out of her Ottawa apartment. As the pandemic hit, new orders surged, but finding scarce supplies was challenging. “Walmart was even out of stock,” said James. “So who am I to not run out of Styrofoam?” James struggled with depression before the pandemic. Adding to that the stress of being a new mother, keeping up with work from her existing full-time job, and launching her design business. “That’s how I ended up hiring more people,” said James. “I have been feeling like superwoman doing this entire time, which was actually leading to a further spiral into depression.” James has taken on six employees now, is feeling much less stress to meet tight client deadlines. For Komendat, small businesses simply need more mental health support options, and wants government to fund more programs. “If there’s a program that’s online I don’t have time to look at that,” said Komendat. “I’m just trying to keep this ball rolling.”

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