Manawatu Standard

Covid taking mental toll on small business

- Marta Steeman

Covid-19 disruption and uncertaint­y has been taking its toll on the mental health and wellbeing of business owners especially in hospitalit­y.

Restaurant owner Krishna Botica was mentally prepared for the challengin­g decisions she would have to make during the pandemic and decided to not drink any alcohol, do regular yoga and mediation to alleviate stress and keep her focus on the business and the wellbeing of staff.

She and husband Tony Mcgeorge own four restaurant­s in Auckland, Saan, Cafe´ Hanoi, Xuxu Dumpling Bar and Ghost Street. She also heads the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Restaurant Associatio­n.

The first six months seemed fine since the first lockdown. Staff were retained and supported by the wage subsidy but on reduced hours, made up by the owners, Botica and Mcgeorge working 60-65 hour weeks to keep costs down.

The staff became close. Some had lost loved ones and could not attend the funerals, others had family overseas, so Botica felt huge responsibi­lity for their wellbeing.

‘‘You’re worried you don’t have enough work for them, you’re worried about your business, and you have to make big decisions, so your cortisol levels are at an all-time high.

‘‘I never dipped into depression, but I have enough experience in my life over the last 50 years to understand the warning signs. I noticed my anxiety levels had increased, I was breathing badly, so I had to go and get help for that.’’

She found herself close to tears a lot, she felt the weight of having to still keep a bright smile on her face and was struggling to sleep even four hours at a stretch.

‘‘The last nine months have been the toughest I’ve ever had in business,’’ Botica said.

Two months before Covid emerged the business had entered into its biggest capital investment, $1.2 million, in moving and expanding Cafe´ Hanoi and opening a fourth restaurant, Ghost Street. The latter’s opening was delayed seven months.

Two surveys of small business owners show Botica and

Mcgeorge are not alone.

Business Mentors New Zealand’s recent survey of more than 1000 small business owners revealed seven out of 10 were feeling stressed and anxious with nearly half of them saying they were burnt out. Just over a quarter reported feeling depressed.

Business management platform MYOB says its 2021 Business Monitor revealed that a third of SME owners and managers (36 per cent) had experience­d a mental health condition since starting or taking over their current business. That compared with 31 per cent in late 2019.

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