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Tackling small business burnout

As a small business owner, often your business is your passion. You might put so much time and energy into your work that it can lead to a lack of work-life balance. It may seem hard to take time out from running your business, but without scheduled downtime, you can risk burnout, which can have negative impacts on your wellbeing and mental health.

Avoiding burnout takes some effort, but in the long run, your health and wellbeing, and your business will benefit from it.

What is burnout?

It’s a common misconception that burnout is simply working too long, or too hard. Burnout is characterised by ongoing stress when we feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. This can impact how we think and socialise and can result in mental and physical exhaustion and lead to feelings of resentment and pessimism. While burnout is not a medically diagnosed condition, it is a mental health issue.

Work-related burnout is a type of stress - a physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about the competence and value of your work. Negative effects of burnout in business include; decreased productivity, increased sick leave or physical and mental health concerns, and increased errors or accidents in the workplace.

Causes of burnout

Burnout often originates from your work situation, but other factors can also contribute, such as lifestyle, and personality traits.

Some work-related causes of burnout include:

  • Feeling like you have little work-life balance
  • Working regular overtime or long hours
  • Feeling as though you have little or no control over your work
  • Unclear or demanding job expectations
  • Monotonous work tasks
  • Lack of adequate support, either in your role, or socially
  • Poor self-care routines

Burnout is a gradual process that doesn’t happen overnight and can be subtle at first, but eventually worsens as time goes on.

Signs and symptoms

Burnout can come with a variety of mental and physical symptoms, which if left unaddressed, can make it challenging to function and thrive in daily life.

Signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, clients, or yourself
  • Feeling a lack of satisfaction from your achievements
  • Reduced productivity or efficacy
  • Using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better
  • Changed sleep habits
  • Unexplained physical complaints such as headaches, stomach or bowel problems
  • Feeling guilty about not spending enough time with family or friends, or even yourself

The effects of burnout

If burnout is not addressed, it can result in a variety of health problems. This includes emotional problems, fatigue and insomnia, as well as physical health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Burnout is generally related to work-related issues and taking some of the following actions can help recovery. However, symptoms of burnout can also be related to other conditions, such as depression or anxiety. For those with depression or anxiety, where the symptoms are related to all areas of life, rather than mostly work, support from a doctor or mental health provider is better suited.

Actions to tackle burnout

Recognising burnout and taking action to get support and get back on track is important. Here are some ways you can start tackling burnout:

  • Get support – reach out to those closest to you, check in with your General Practitioner about your health concerns, and consider seeking professional guidance for your mental health and wellbeing
  • Consider changes – can you adjust your expectations, or find solutions to workload and concerns with work hours? Is there someone else who can take on some of your tasks where you feel overburdened?
  • Relaxation and mindfulness - include relaxation and mindfulness activities in your schedule, such as yoga or meditation. See the self-care and mindfulness resources for more ideas
  • Sleep – aim for appropriate quantity and quality sleep to improve well-being and reduce risk of illnesses
  • Exercise – physical activity can help you deal with stress and take your mind off work
  • Take leave - taking time away from your business can lead to coming back with fresh energy and new ideas.

Owning your own business is often a passion and a defining aspect of yourself and your life. Be sure to allow yourself the chance to enjoy other aspects of your life and balance the energy and time you put into all of these areas.

Business Stressors Screen

Try the Ahead for Business Business Stress Test and see how you are managing business-related stress.

If you recognise any of the signs and symptoms of burnout, consider talking to a doctor or a mental health provider.

Further reading

More Resources