Background Workplace mental health promotion (WMHP) aims to prevent and effectively manage the social and economic costs of common mental illnesses such as depression. The mental health of managers and employees within small-medium enterprises (SMEs) is a neglected sector in occupational health research and practice, despite the fact that this sector is the most common work setting in most economies. The availability and propensity of SME staff to attend face-to-face training/therapy or workshop style interventions often seen in corporate or public sector work settings is a widely recognised problem. The 'Business in Mind' program employs a DVD mode of delivery that is convenient for SME managers, particularly those operating in regional and remote areas where internet delivery may not be optimal. The objective of the intervention program is to improve the mental health of SME managers, and examine whether employees of managers' whose mental health improves, report positive change in their psychosocial work environment. The mechanisms via which we aim to improve managers' mental health are through the development of their psychological capital (a higher order construct comprised of hope, self efficacy, resilience and optimism) and their skills and capacities for coping with work stress. Methods/Design The effectiveness of two versions of the program (self administered and telephone facilitated) will be assessed using a randomised trial with an active control condition (psychoeducation only). We aim to recruit a minimum of 249 managers and a sample of their employees. This design allows for 83 managers per group, as power analyses showed that this number would allow for attrition of 20% and still enable detection of an effect size of 0.5. The intervention will be implemented over a three month period and postal surveys will assess managers and employees in each group at baseline, intervention completion, and at 6 month follow up. The intervention groups (managers only) will also be assessed at 12 and 24 month follow-up to examine maintenance of effects. Primary outcomes are managers' levels of psychological capital (hope, resilience, self-efficacy and optimism), coping strategies, anxiety and depression symptoms, self-reported health, job satisfaction and job tension. Secondary outcomes are participating managers subordinates' perceptions of manager support, relational justice, emotional climate and job tension. In order to provide an economic evaluation of the intervention, both employees and manager rates of absenteeism and presenteeism will also be assessed. Discussion The intervention being trialled is expected to improve both primary and secondary outcomes. If proven efficacious, the intervention could be disseminated to reach a much larger proportion of the business community.