Putting a break on generational anxiety

James Scott is the fourth generation of the Scotts Timber Engineering and Scotts of Thrapston family business. Here, he talks about mental health and the pressures of running a family business – a topic that is very close to his heart.

Ten years ago, James and his wife Kate suffered the loss of her brother to suicide. This was devastating for all the family, and challenging for James as he was also appointed Managing Director of his family business at a similar time. He says: “If my experience can help even just one person, I am happy to share it.”


What was it like growing up within a family business?

“Growing up in such a long-established family-run business, I had the chance to meet people from all walks of life. I watched my grandfather and father manage the Scotts brand and was always conscious that being a leader often entails high expectations and pressure from those around you.

“From an early age, I frequently heard statements like “We have to work hard to make this company successful”, which added a level of anxiety because I knew no other options were available. I recall being in school and watching my classmates plan their futures when one of them said, “You’ll be fine. You have a job waiting for you”. This made me feel uneasy. Although it may have been true, I often questioned whether I was capable of handling the responsibility that seemed to be in front of me throughout my life.”


What are the common pressures you face being a part of a family business?

“I have been working in this company since my twenties, and it has been both challenging and exciting. The legacy of my great-grandfather, who founded the business over a century ago, truly hit me when I became the Managing Director. This role represents leadership and the efforts and achievements of everyone associated with the company.

“While having the trust of the 140 families working for Scotts is an honour, it can also be daunting. This responsibility can cause anxiety, especially during difficult times like trying to keep everyone supported and safe through Covid. Despite the pressures, I am grateful for this opportunity.”


Have you ever experienced burnout?

“I am open to admitting that I have experienced burnout. Many people will have had a similar experience. In the last few years, we have been through Brexit and a rollercoaster of political and economic instability, Covid-19, the pressures of materials shortages, and the sky-rocketing cost of living, placing many people in difficult positions.

“When faced with so many pressures, I find myself working to the absolute limit and hoping that my decisions are the right ones. When we are relatively anxious and stressed, those feelings are often picked up by those around us, especially our children. I am aware my children look up to me as a father, so I understand the importance of taking care of my mental health and well-being to continue performing at my best, and I encourage others in similar positions to do the same. I have watched my grandfather and father experience stress and anxiety, and I hope to be the one where I can normalise the idea of reaching out and seeking support when it’s needed.”


What are your best coping strategies?

“While some stress can be beneficial, it’s important to have coping strategies when it becomes overwhelming. I take at least 20 minutes every day to relax and reflect. Even commuting time is useful – it helps me clear my mind and reminds me to feel grateful for my team and everything I have.

“I try to stay present in the moment, whether I’m at work as the Managing Director of Scotts or at home as a son, husband, and father.

“One of the best ways for me to de-stress was introduced by my wife: go for a long walk. I recommend going out and enjoying nature: the grass, trees, birdsong and natural surroundings. Take yourself away from the hustle and bustle and let yourself put everything aside and focus on our beautiful world.

“Helping others can also be a powerful way to cope with stress. Checking in with a colleague and asking how they’re doing can make a big difference. Sometimes, all it takes is making that first move to ask how they are.”

Where to find help

Please speak to someone if you ever feel alone or if something doesn’t feel right. You can call the Samaritans for support 24 hours a day on 116 123.

For those in the timber and construction industry, the Lighthouse Club is a fantastic charity that provides the ‘Building Mental Health’ online information portal to help companies develop a positive mental health culture. This includes a 5-step framework to better mental health, with free and easy-to-access resources to support the construction community.

The Lighthouse Club also provides a confidential 24/7 support helpline on 0345 605 1956 to anyone in the industry who needs financial or wellbeing support.