Do business owners have better work life balance and less job burnout than employees?

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Are you experiencing job burnout? Would becoming a small business owner save you? Could it make it worse?

Job burnout is terrible. It is all too common – a scourge of modern work life.

It follows that a reasonable question to ask is, “does burnout affect small business owners?” If so, are they affected to the same degree as employees. Do they enjoy a better work-life balance than employees?

Naturally, the personal traits and characteristics of the business owner will play a significant role. As will factors such as the industry in which a business operates and the prevailing economic conditions. Even somewhat less quantifiable elements, such as an individuals level of motivation, may have a role to play.

In a 2018 survey, people were asked about what motivated them to want to own a business. The top two answers were as follows;

Being the boss = 66%

Work flexibly = 64%

(NAB Group Economics)

Both of those answers hint at the idea that controlling one’s own destiny is indeed a powerful motivator. I wonder if there is also a degree of burnout lurking behind those answers?

It is true that running a small business may provide greater flexibility. However, other pressures, unique to business ownership, may add to the feeling of overwhelm and “job burnout”. Understanding your motivation to own a business is therefore paramount.

Does owning a business improve job burnout?

Starting a business or buying one will not necessarily improve feelings of burnout. Sure, there will be a lot of excitement in the beginning and as the business starts to grow.

If motivation starts to wane or business conditions decline, however, the ‘work’ can become a grind. If this happens, running a business may have the opposite effect. One’s feelings of burnout might actually increase.

feeling of burnout

The point is that the panacea for job burnout isn’t necessarily about the work itself. What might help, however, is working out whether business ownership is a good choice for you or not. 

By doing that deep thinking upfront, you may have a better chance of choosing a career (business or employment) that helps to minimize the risk of burnout.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. Interestingly they do not classify burnout as a medical condition.

The WHO says:

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Does this WHO description sound like common sense?

It is interesting that the WHO excludes “other areas of life” in their definition. Common sense, however, tells us that this is very hard to do in practice.

As many of us know, the lines between work and “life” are becoming increasingly blurred. As a result, the pursuit of work-life balance plays a significant role in many people’s lives.

Many of us find that “switching off” is hard to do. It is not as simple as, come 5.01pm, we’re able to instantly stop thinking about work.

You should not underestimate the impact starting a business has on family and friends.

Is a great work-life balance an urban myth?

Much of the written content about the topic of burnout seems to concentrate on employees. Some employees feel they can no longer just work 9-5. The demands on their time are increasing. 

My own experience from running businesses as both an employee and a business owner is similar. Simply switching from thinking about work to others areas of my life was always a challenge.

After all, work is a very significant and integral part of our life. Any unresolved concerns from work often nag at us and stray into our private lives. At times, we may also take issues from our private lives to work with us as well.

It’s obvious to those of us that have been around a while, that the pace of life has changed. Constant connectivity via digital devices means that we are almost invariably “available”. This is the case even if when we aren’t physically at work.

People in management positions probably feel this most. They are responsible for resolving business issues as quickly as possible. Time is money! The faster they can find a solution, the faster they can stop worrying. I used to spend holidays mentally crunching through solutions for business issues.

All of these issues make the pursuit of a great work-life balance more difficult. But, is it possible or just a myth?

Perhaps quitting you job and starting a business might be the answer!

Can a great work-life balance exist for a business owner?

Yes it can! As long as the business is performing well and you have great people around you. 

Of course that is not the position that most new business owners find themselves in at the start. As a business owner, concerns can become overwhelming and sleepless nights can be all too common.

Owners are ultimately responsible for finding solutions to all the problems in their business.

Work-life balance for business owners and employees is, therefore, quite different. It can be quite difficult for a business owner to mentally escape from the troubles within their businesses. Employees, in a worst case scenario, can resign and get another job.

Some successful business owners think differently about the concept of work-life balance. They have a plan for the short, medium and long terms. As a result of belief in those plans, they may be more willing to accept the intrusion of work into home life for a period of time. Their attitude to money may also accept short term strain for longer term success.

Who gets job burnout?

One could argue that “Gen Y” has tried to lay claim to feelings of Burnout. My experience, though, is that it has little to do with age and more to do with work-life balance and one’s life circumstances. There are plenty of over 50’s who feel burnt out and look for a work-life balance change.

I describe the group as “Generation Burnout” (Gen B). The members of Gen B can be from any generation. They can be involved in any profession.

So, arguably, no-one is immune.

Work pressures inevitably have a massive part to play in feelings of burnout. However, other issues, such as financial insecurity and emotional distress may also contribute. 

What does job burnout feel like?

Burnout will undoubtedly feel different for each person suffering from it.

  • People describe feeling stressed, fatigued, mentally, and emotionally worn-out, trapped by their circumstances and somewhat depressed at not seeing any way to change their situation.
  • Their perception stems from enduring their situation over an extended period.
  • A holiday or break does not stop the feeling as it appears more deep-rooted than merely being tired.
  • Life has lost its sparkle, and drudgery has become dominant for them.
  • It might be a feeling of falling short against milestones that arbitrarily suggest whether we are successful.
  • A feeling of failure against the “ideal life” lurks in the background.
  • These feelings test our resilience to life and what it throws at us.

If you are feeling like you may be suffering from burnout or any related condition, it is important to seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Why is the job burnout epidemic growing?

As I’ve touched on above, many of the causes of burnout are related to our work. But, are there other things going on?

image of social media influencerThe incredible growth of social media channels may play a role. Influencers bombard us with curated snippets of their so-called perfect lives. For some people these become unrealistic benchmarks to which they compare themselves. There is a constant pressure to keep abreast of trends so as to not look out of touch. 

One can only try to keep up with these largely fictional lifestyles for so long. It would wear anyone out!

How do you measure up against the ideal life?

Those pressures to “measure up” to others can be damaging to wellbeing. We are supposed to post a “blow by blow” account of our ideal lives and how we are:

  • financially successful. 
  • confident in ourselves and our purpose in life.
  • in perfect relationships with our partners and families.
  • healthy, attractive, fashionable and always positive.
  • super-fit  and attending the right gym or Crossfit.
  • have a secret recipe for blending a unique green, healthy drink.
  • environmentally aware.
  • sleeping at least 8 hours a night having read the hottest new personal development book.
  • facing no health challenges that positive thinking won’t cure.
  • having regular, carbon-neutral, trips to exotic destinations. 
  • enjoying a rewarding job and a meaningful career.

To put it simply, it is now no longer enough just to live our life.

We have to compete with everyone else’s life as well! 

Perpetually trying to match the best practice standard in every category of life is the curse of social media and our times.

Business owners may also add to the list. They are expected to be financially successful and able to cope with any situation. That’s just not the reality of running a business.

The idea of trying to achieve some fantasy existence can be very destructive to our wellbeing. Check this episode for more information business owner wellbeing-how to actively prepare yourself.

Avoiding Job burnout and owning a business

Starting a business, as a means of curing yourself from burnout, is certainly an option worth considering. But there is a heck of a lot more to it than that. Sure, a change of scenery might be just what you need. But, owning a business that will grow and thrive into the future requires a lot more thought than simply trying to avoid or cure feelings of burnout.  

You really do need to adequately prepare yourself for all of the challenges inherent in running a business. Learning how to evaluate your business idea is another critical skill to master. Your goal is to choose a business that is financially viable and suits your personality to avoid making a big mistake. As is learning how to look after yourself and keep well.

Considering a business partner to spread the work load, decision-making and risk may be an option. Using a external support team is a great way to get input from experienced professionals. Choosing a business mentor may also help to boost your confidence and set growth priorities.

Obviously, there is no point in owning a business if it harms your wellbeing and makes you unhappy. But, if you do not take the time to prepare yourself, that is a real risk. 

Equally, owning a business could turn out to be one of the most rewarding things that you do in your life. As a result, many business owners would never return to being an employee.

Take our Entrepreneur Personality Quiz for some more insight into what it takes to be a successful business owner.

Written by Brendan Barrow
Brendan Barrow is the Co-Host of the Should I Own A Business Podcast. Brendan has a wealth of business experience across many different businesses and 3 continents.

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