The key to managing stress for small business owners

- August 8, 2023 3 MIN READ


Ever since the pandemic, the world has touted the importance of managing stress and pressure and providing ample wellbeing for ourselves and our employees. So, we should. It is morally critical and commercially vital. Healthy, happy, and long-tenured staff are fundamental for good business performance, explains recruitment specialist Roxanne Calder, author of Employable – 7 Attributes to Assuring Your Working Future.

Business owners, too, are central to business performance. But post-pandemic, I wonder just how our small business owners are faring. Not that great, it seems. Small business owners face more mental health challenges than the general population, and Australian small business owners have the second lowest level of wellbeing.

When 97.5 per cent of all business in Australia are small businesses (0-19 employees), and responsible for employing 42 per cent of the private sector, up from 41 per cent in pre-COVID times, we should be concerned. So, what is the key to managing stress for small business owners?

Not a day off!

A lovely thought from the well-intentioned. Every business owner knows you pay dearly for any time off. Even when you delegate, you can’t distribute all the work. It piles up, waiting impatiently for your return, and to make sure you never leave again, somehow balloons in size and consequence. Just enough for you to think twice the next time you browse ‘holiday destinations.’

And if you are tied directly to service delivery and away, add the inevitable loss of revenue. Your holiday cost just quadrupled. So, is it any wonder that 34 per cent of small business owners take less than four weeks of holiday a year, and 14 per cent can’t recall the last time they took annual leave?

Stress in today’s environment

It’s different. Small business owners are accustomed to business pressure. It is inked invisibly into their job description. But today’s environment is a cardiac test, even for the strong-hearted. Chasing revenue, countering rising costs, the hyper-focus on health and welfare, the struggle to find staff, rampant resignations, remote work or not, business efficiencies, cyber-attacks, technology advancements and much more.

Business owners must be mentally nimble, adjusting on the spot and sometimes mid-pivot to stop and change again. Have you accepted the new reality, or waiting for the old normal to return? That’s undue stress right there, accompanied by a sprig of disillusion and an invitation for continued pressure.  Accept, adapt and redivert your fight or flight stresses to energies to reinvigorate and inspire your business.

Good or bad long hours?

The debate is aplenty. As is the research. Tell a motivated person not to put the effort in. It doesn’t work. Equally so is the suggestion to an inspired business owner not to work long hours. But a demotivated business owner is another story.

Of course, putting in longer hours has its costs. But it is not a clear-cut translation, ‘extra work = decreased wellbeing’ equation. Rather, focus on recovery. Quality, not quantitative, time on wellbeing and restorative sleep, creating the buffer against stress and the risk of burnout.

The skills shortage and stress

This could be your bad long-hours story. Nearly 40 per cent of small business owners work over 60 hours a week. Press pause and ask yourself why? Your ongoing 60-plus hour weeks is the equivalent of 1.5 headcounts. Are you doing someone else’s job? Hire the resource or hold your staff member accountable.

The skills shortage and record-low unemployment rates make the task of hiring tough but not insurmountable. Look to use specialist recruiters, outsource, or upskill your existing employees. Patience and training are necessary ingredients to counter current hiring conundrums.

Are you the problem?

Regardless of the advice, some of you just prefer to do everything yourself. 30 per cent of you feel you are ‘the most capable’, 20 per cent don’t have employees with the right skills, and another 20 per cent are in a hurry to get the job done. You need to let go. Alleviate the workload with upskilling and reskilling your employees. Nearly 20 per cent of you like doing the tasks, which I can’t disagree with!

I am a small business owner. I also fit into all the above statistics.

Owning a business is tough and at times, a lonely place. Most people will never understand the weight of responsibility. Nor the intrinsic pleasure. But it is our choice. Manage your stress the right way to continue the inspiration and motivation you first set out with for your business. This is a noble job.

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