Last week in the U.K was Mental Health Awareness Week, which actually coincides with Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S.
Mental Health Awareness Week (or Month) is of course about trying to raise awareness of mental health issues across the board and to encourage people to talk openly about mental health difficulties that they might be facing.
It is reported that in the past week in the U.K, one in every six people will have experienced a common mental health problem (Source: Mental Health and Wellbeing in the U.K, NHS Digital). The reality of the situation is that not one of us is immune to mental health problems. It is also the reality that entrepreneurs are more likely to suffer from mental health difficulties at some point in their lives than the general population. A 2015 study by the University of San Francisco researcher Michael A. Freeman focused on the mental health crisis amongst entrepreneurs.
According to this study, approximately one half (49%) of entrepreneurs will suffer from at least one form of mental health condition during their lifetimes. This compares in the U.S with a reported 35% of the general population.
Anyone who has set up and run a business, whether start-up, franchisor or franchisee, will undoubtedly acknowledge that the entrepreneurial journey is a rollercoaster, involving great highs and often sinking lows. If the stress associated with a business issue becomes too great it can easily spill over into other areas of life and become a crisis situation. Vice versa.
The above facts and figures clearly demonstrate that any franchisor heading up a franchise network must have an awareness of mental health issues, just as any business leader should. In my personal view, a franchisor should also give consideration to putting structures in place to identify and , if appropriate, support a franchisee experiencing mental health difficulties. Not only is this an ethically responsible and human-to-human approach, but it also is surely part of the franchisor’s responsibility towards the franchise network and the brand as a whole. If a franchisee is struggling with their mental health that will undoubtedly in some form have an impact on the business and poor performance on the part of one franchisee (whatever the reasons behind it) is likely to have repercussions for the entire team. It can have a far-reaching effect not only on customer relationships but also the whole atmosphere and relationships within the franchisee network.
What strategies and support mechanisms a franchisor might consider adopting to address mental health issues within their business will vary massively, depending partly on the size of the franchise network and model. The starting point though must be openness and honesty. Having good and clear lines of communication between the franchisor management team and the franchisees together with a positive company culture is a key factor to overall franchise success in any event, in my own personal opinion, together with an excellent franchisee support structure. With those in place, a franchisee who can self-identify when they are starting to struggle should feel able to be open and honest about the difficulties that they are experiencing and feel confident that in doing so they will be supported and assisted wherever possible. Appropriate systems in place should also allow the franchisor management team to identify when a franchisee might be experiencing difficulties but has not yet opened up about it, giving the franchisor the opportunity to offer support and advice at an early stage before a crisis situation develops.
The huge benefit of course in being part of a franchise network is being part of a larger community. That as well can be a huge help in supporting franchisees who may be suffering from or are at risk of mental health issues. Again, having open lines of communication where franchisees chat and support each other means that franchise owners are less likely to feel alone and isolated when experiencing problems, and are therefore more likely to reach out.
It’s also important to recognise the role that franchisors and franchisees as business owners can play themselves in raising awareness of mental health issues. I wrote recently about the initiative that one fast-food giant recently launched in the U.S to mark Mental Health Awareness Month which has of course generated a huge amount of publicity and hopefully prompted useful discussions. On a smaller but still incredibly important scale, earlier this month saw Maternal Mental Health Week here in the U.K and several of my own franchisees took it upon themselves to share on social media their own experiences with peri and postnatal depression. As we work within the children’s activities industry and our customer base is parents and predominantly moms, they were able to use their individual platforms as business owners to talk about what can be taboo subjects, reach out to their audience and to let them know that they’re not alone. Many customers got in touch to say how much they appreciated it.
And finally, as franchisors, let’s be mindful of our own mental health too. Our franchisees rely on us to lead the brand and network forward. No longer viewed as a “sign of weakness”, if a franchisee sees a franchisor taking ownership of their own mental health then they are more likely to seek support and assistance themselves. Let’s lead by example and use Mental Health Awareness Week and Month as an opportunity to promote positive discussions within our networks as well as review our own systems and procedures.