The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected small businesses. The most common impact is loss of revenue, reported by 23% of small business owners, followed by reduced budgets, closures, and wage cuts.
Many small business owners turned to finance methods, with cash being the popular option. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provided over $20 billion to small businesses through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. SBA loan volume increased by 41%. Work is underway to support small businesses and economic growth in the country for the current fiscal year.
The unique challenges, restrictions, financial fragility, limited business operations, and day-to-day business issues have left many small business owners burdened and anxious. With families to feed and employees to pay, small business owners are caught in the trap of keeping their business alive. Unfortunately, getting caught up in this trap ultimately leaves most business owners highly stressed, resulting in burnout.
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Although studies on burnout that focus solely on small business owners or entrepreneurs are limited, there is abundant research about burnout in the general workforce population.
While burnout isn’t considered a medical condition, the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies it as an occupational phenomenon, outlining characteristics such as:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job, and
- Reduced professional efficacy
Burnout can affect employees working in various types of occupations, as well as small business owners. Experiencing prolonged stress, being available 24/7, and dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is a set up for burnout. Unrecognized or ignored, burnout negatively impacts your psychological well being, and it can even impact your ability to operate and make decisions for the best interest of your business.
Are you suffering from burnout?
- You feel tired and drained on most days.
- Your sleep is easily disrupted. You have trouble falling asleep or you easily wake up even in the middle of the night.
- You have trouble concentrating, leading to a lack of productivity.
- You experience headaches, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and other physical symptoms of stress.
- You feel anxious or depressed (anxiety and depression are also regarded as mental illnesses, so if you suffer from them, please seek qualified professional assistance).
- You get irritated easily.
- You isolate yourself.
- You no longer enjoy the things you used to enjoy.
The above descriptions can be signs of clinical depression. If you think you could be suffering from depression, please seek qualified professional assistance for support. You don’t need to suffer in silence.
How to Address Burnout
Focus on 1-3 priorities at a time. It can be inventory today, then financing tomorrow. Use a system for tracking your tasks, such as a simple spreadsheet with tasks, priority rank and deadline. Break up the tasks into clusters based on priority. You can get caught up with all of the things you need to get done as a business owner. . Prioritize your task list based on what is urgent, for example, which actions have the biggest consequence based on when they’re completed.
There were two reasons cited in a psychological study as to why business owners hesitate when it comes to delegating: (1) The faith in supervision effect: observers tend to perceive work performed under the supervision of a supervisor as better than work that is not supervised and (2) The self-enhancement effect: leaders evaluate work favorably if they are heavily involved in it.
These findings suggest one thing: business leaders think they need to oversee tasks for the work to always be at its best.
This is natural for small business owners whose businesses are so tied to them and their daily life. After all, it is your business and you want to be in contro. Yet, research by Gallup revealed that business owners who delegate generate 33% more revenue than those who don’t.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with wanting everything to go exactly the way you want it to. However, over-involvement can work against you if you don’t recognize the importance of delegation. Business owner burnout is usually the result.
Evaluate all the tasks and ask yourself: “What should or must stay on my plate?” “What tasks can I hand over?” “Who in my company would do a good job with certain tasks?”
Give yourself some time to recharge. The key is to find a pocket of hours, either weekly or daily, for you to disconnect from work. Step away from your business fully and engage in recreational activities.
You may engage in self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, journaling, sleeping, taking a vacation, hanging out with friends or family, reading, or just about anything other than work! Make sure you keep your boundaries during self-care time so you don’t keep checking in or worrying about business updates.
It is a helpful idea to revisit your business goals. What were your first business goals? What kept you going? Then, acknowledge how far you’ve come. Re-evaluate your goals. Are they too broad? Are they realistic? Define your goals and organize them into milestones or clusters. Track your progress in achieving these smaller goals. The little wins will add up, boost your morale, and drive you to continue.
The hard reality is , you may need to call it quits if you’ve tried almost everything and the business isn’t succeeding. Businesses have their own breaking point too! Denying that you might be close to a breaking point will only prolong your burnout and may even do more harm than good to your business (and you). Create an exit plan and make room for something that will light you up. But first, how will you know if burnout is driving you to a business exit?
Being burned out can jeopardize your decision-making ability. A study conducted at the University of Surrey found that individuals who experience burnout, especially the inefficacy aspect, may be more likely to make risky decisions.. The result can have negative consequences for the business. Then it would only be a matter of time before burn-out blunders cause your business irreversible damage.
Extreme exhaustion and stress can trigger fight or flight responses in your body, leading to anxiety and even panic attacks. If you feel that you want to flee, feel like a fight is happening inside you, or you feel “frozen,” you need to stop, step away, and put your own mental health first. Your mental well-being affects other areas of your life and functioning.
Neglect in your own wellbeing
When the business is a one-man show, tasks can seem bigger than they really are. Small businesses, like big ones, create increased demands for time and energy as they grow. Often, the complaint is that you are just too tired.
The sheer amount of work you need to do constantly overflows into your personal time. When there is little or no time left for personal time, you may start to dread your business tasks. Owning a small business is challenging, but it should also provide a good sense of enjoyment and pride, which can feel rejuvenating.
Lost sight of business goals
Burnout causes business owners to lose focus on their business goals. You might find yourself in a state where business priorities are becoming a daily challenge. Even worse, problem-solving while feeling burned out often involves using quick band-aid fixes, which reduce profits rather than increase them.
Most business owners experience burnout at some point in their journey. By taking a proactive approach, you may be able to bounce back quickly, or even avoid it entirely.
It’s essential to acknowledge that if you’re having trouble managing burnout on your own, the best option is to ask for professional help. Burnout can have a serious negative impact on your business as well as other areas of your life.