Stress levels hit peak for small company owners

More than two thirds of small business owners say it is more stressful to run a business now than ever before, research finds.

The figure of 71 per cent is up from 66 per cent in 2013, and 65 per cent in 2012, according to a study of more than 2,500 companies by employee wellbeing consultancy Health Assured.

Two fifths of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) currently experience staff absence from work because of stress.

Also, 89 per cent of small business owner managers admit to working while on holiday.

Some 63 per cent of owner managers who work on holiday say they have argued with their partner because they have continued to work.

However 68 per cent of SME owner-managers say that despite the stress they would happily set up another business.

David Price, managing director of Health Assured says that to make a business work employees are more likely to work longer hours and spend more energy on making something succeed.

‘Whilst this is admirable it can lead to issues such as fall outs with colleagues, fatigue and stress. Excessive stress can interfere with productivity and impact physical and emotional health which in turn is not good for you or your business.’

Price says that a certain amount of stress is healthy, it can help build drive and determination, it can make people work well together in a group.

‘However the right balance needs to be addressed and the wellbeing of employees needs to be a priority of any business no matter what the size. In a small business the responsibility of making a business work has more impact on smaller number of employees, hence why we see a more stress amongst small firms,’ he adds.

‘Everyone needs to take a break, never force staff to work throughout lunch, and if they do have to work late ensure they are compensated. Acknowledge the work they are doing, this can often help alleviate stress especially if they believe what they do is appreciated – this will also help boost motivation. Monitor work volume and ensure that is shed amongst staff fairly and review regularly, ensure that everyone is pulling their weight.’

Further reading on entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs unable to relax on holiday

The majority of small business owners say that taking a holiday is more stressful than it’s worth, research finds. 

Some 86 per cent of UK business owners, employing up to 30 people, admit they continued to have contact with their workplace while they were on holiday, according to a survey by AXA PPP healthcare. 

Nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of business owners surveyed say they dealt with important phone calls and emails while on holiday and more than four in ten (41 per cent) phone the office while away.

One in five continue to take phone calls and check email as normal while one in ten admit they had visited their workplace in person when they were supposed to be on holiday. The small business owners surveyed took on average just 11 days holiday in 2014. However, six in ten (59 per cent) plan to take more next year.

Glen Parkinson, SME business director at AXA PPP healthcare says, ‘It’s understandable that owners want to keep an eye on their businesses, even when they are on holiday, but it is concerning that they take so little time off and that they view their break so negatively.

‘We know the importance of downtime, not just for wellbeing but also for ensuring productivity and good mental health.’

The owners surveyed are in agreement that concern for their business is the root of this behaviour, 52 per cent saying contacting their business puts their mind at ease or stops them from worrying.

Almost a quarter (23 per cent) say they do it to feel in control and 11 per cent say they aren’t able to relax otherwise.

The small business owners surveyed say they are putting in an average of 36 hours each week in the workplace but this doesn’t mean they were finished for the week, dedicating on average another 17 hours to their business when they get home.

In addition to working long hours, almost half (47 per cent) of business owners say they feel stressed all or most of the time, 47 per cent say they feel pressure when they are at home, which is only slightly less than those owners who predominantly feel pressure in the workplace (53 per cent).

Parkinson says, ‘Small business owners have to combine leading their business and securing its future with ensuring the business-essential activities are also well managed.

‘This degree of responsibility is therefore leading to longer working hours and higher levels of stress for many business owners. In the long term, this behaviour is unsustainable and business owners should heed advice to take more time away from their business to rest and recharge as well as get the necessary support where appropriate.’

Most (82 per cent) of owners took some sick leave last year, setting a clear example to workers that it’s okay to take time off to recover. However, 21 per cent of owners say that working while they were sick had not adversely affected them.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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