Research by Opus Energy earlier this year revealed that SME owners in the UK work an average of 2,366 hours per year in order to make their business a success, working an average of 45.5 hours per week (compared to the average full time working week of 37 hours). More than half (56%) of owners reported working either six or seven days per week.
It also found that 14% percent of all entrepreneurs say that they don’t take any time off while a quarter (23%) claim that they have to work even when on holiday.
A survey by Yorkshire Bank in April found that a quarter of small business owners across the UK sacrifice time with friends and family and around 30% of UK business owners have sacrificed their work-life balance. This results in detrimental effects on their mental and physical health.
In May the FSB announced a partnership with Heads Together, a project run by the Royal Foundation, to raise awareness about mental health in SMEs.
Ignoring your mental and physical health can take a toll on your business
In an economy that relies heavily on the thousands of SMEs, this situation has some worrying implications.
Given the significant rise in the numbers of SME owners reporting burn out, what will happen to the continuity, efficiency and potential growth of their businesses?
Is it a case of business owners not organising their time efficiently, or taking on too much, or unable to delegate, or simply not saying “no”?
There is no doubt that the regulatory and administrative burden on SMEs is considerable – from Business Rates, employee and pensions administration, Health and Safety regulations, tax and legislative changes, such as Making Tax Digital and increasing demands from corporate customers, suppliers, landlords and banks to complete compliance documents.
In addition, there has been a level of stress and anxiety relating to uncertainty following the financial crisis of 2007, the lack of any subsequent growth and more recently the downturn in the global economy. As well as other elephants in the room.
However, there are some things business owners could do to allow them to take better care of their mental and physical health.
The first may be to simply to stand back from their business and take stock. With the help of a mentor they can objectively assess how they use their time and suggest improvements.
As a consequence of this it may be that the business owner needs to be more self-disciplined and focused on working on their business rather than in it. Having a daily work plan, with space in the diary for reflection, cutting back on meetings, actually building in thinking and leisure/exercise time. Such discipline and sticking to a plan can be helpful.
Outsourcing or delegating functions is another option. Many SME owners find it difficult to trust others to do some tasks, but actually, if they want to grow their businesses, they need to ensure they have a team of key people capable of taking over some of the workload.
The mental and physical health benefits of simple things like a walk cannot be over-emphasised. Finding a way to de-stress, to let the mind roam and reflect on problems often leads to new ideas and solutions that were not initially considered.
Lastly, spending time with friends and especially family should not be at the bottom of the priority list. After all, a large number of SME owners say that they originally started their businesses in order to have more freedom to manage their work-life balance. Sadly, too many of them are finding that the decision has had the opposite effect.