Mental health is more than just a buzz word or the latest hot topic, as the recent Mental Health First Aid Law presentation in parliament proves. 
So, how can you tell if a franchisor is serious about supporting their stakeholders or if they’re just jumping on the bandwagon because they think it looks good? And, once you are a business owner yourself, what challenges might you face and what are your own obligations when it comes to supporting your team? 
Jen Chapman-Boffin, Founder of Mental Health First Aid provider, Cinder, gives some frank and thought-provoking advice to anyone considering investing in a franchise. 
Ask the BIG question 
Because many people still feel embarrassed or ashamed about mental health and wellbeing, it’s not always top of the list when it comes to due diligence questions. But it should be.  
Alongside your financial and operational considerations, mental health – and how the support of it – is woven into the franchise model is a crucially important question. And one that franchisors should be prepared 
to answer in a modern world. If they aren’t, then that tells you an awful lot about the type of people and organisation that you are looking at investing in! 
You can look out for key things at every stage of your journey. What terminology and language are used on the franchisor’s website and in their prospectus? Is there even any mention of wellbeing over and above a nod to work-life balance? Is there a clear, signposted route for accessing support from within the company or, does the brand have third party specialists for you to work with once you’re a part of the network? If your chosen franchisor has staff trained in Mental Health First Aid or runs workshops or programmes aimed at building resilience and self-awareness then you can feel confident that they walk the walk. 
The simplest and quickest way to confirm these things is to speak to existing franchisees in the network and ask them about their own experiences. Remember that every person is unique and will have had their own challenges to overcome but generally, you should hear and feel positively about the feedback you get. Listen out for evidence that the systems and tools the franchisor has said are available kicked in when they should have, or that franchisees were able to reach out and access support when needed. 
What challenges might I face? 
The stresses and pressures you are likely to face as a business owner are different to those that you may have experienced in any employed position. It’s important to know the difference and understand the effects they can have on your wellbeing and performance as well as your decision- making and leadership functions. 
To illustrate things in the simplest of terms, as an employee you’re likely to face the pressures of deadlines, inter-personal politics and customer relationship management. As well as things like learning new skills and stepping out of your comfort zone on occasion – if asked to make a presentation for example. But broadly speaking, you have a structure to work within and a path of line management or peer support to turn to. And, ultimately, someone can always step in to help if necessary. 
As a franchisee, and the business owner, you are the one that your team will turn to for support on every single one of these issues. In addition, as a franchisee you’ll have completely new and probably unfamiliar pressures to contend with. Everything from financial management – something which takes on a whole new dimension when the figures you’re looking at on the paper relate to your own bank account! – to business development, lead generation and even social media engagement. 
With all this in mind, it’s so important that you protect your own wellbeing and equip yourself with the right knowledge and skills. As a fully accredited Mental Health First Aid consultant myself, I work 
with franchisees to build their emotional resilience, self-awareness and stress management tools. All vital skills that have a direct impact on business ownership, longevity and success. It’s now a well- 
recognised fact that franchisees who are more self and mentally aware, emotionally resilient and able to cope with daily stressors will be more effective as business owners. 
By actively working to understand and build up your mental health toolkit, you are more likely to adopt a growth mindset, become less reliant on external support and have the confidence and ability to lead your businesses and your team to success. 
What are my legal obligations? 
In 2017, the government commissioned the Thriving at Work report which sets out a framework of actions – called ‘Core Standards’ – that employers of all sizes can, and should, put in place. Therefore, even as a franchisee, if you employ a team around you, you have an obligation to support their mental wellbeing in your workplace. This can come as quite a shock! But actively promoting and protecting an open and inclusive approach to mental health can have significant benefits for all businesses and isn’t something you should shy away from. In fact, I’d encourage you to embrace this and use it as an opportunity to not only operate as a gold-standard employer but also attract and retain the best talent! 
The Thriving at Work Core Standards include action points such as producing, implementing and communicating a mental health at work plan that promotes good mental health and outlines the support available for those who may need it. The continual development of mental health awareness among employees and encouraging open conversations about mental health and the support available. The standards also state that employers should ensure mental health forms part of the recruitment and review process and offer appropriate workplace adjustments to employees who need them. 
It's clear that mental health and wellbeing affects every stage of a franchisee’s journey – from your due diligence process and decision-making drivers to the roles and responsibilities you’ll take on as a 
business owner. That’s why finding the right franchisor and the best-fit model for you as an individual is so vital. But it’s also true that franchising as a route to business ownership means that 
you shouldn’t ever be alone. The strength of a collaborative network and a strong franchisor- franchisee relationship will help you to navigate any mental health challenges you face along the 
Author: Jen Chapman-Boffin 
Image: Jen Chapman-Boffin, Founder, Cinder Ltd. 
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