Overcoming Business Owner Burnout

What is Burnout?

In 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout in the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon. According to the WHO, burnout is “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The symptoms of burnout are typically characterized by exhaustion, lack of professional success, and mental distance or cynicism about one’s job. 

Anyone in any profession can experience burnout, but business owners and entrepreneurs often face burnout in business. Burnout feelings can be difficult to navigate because they are often internal. It becomes even more challenging when the people around you don’t understand the pressures of being a business owner or entrepreneur.

How Many Entrepreneurs Burn Out?

If you often say to yourself, “My business is draining me,” you’re not alone. According to small business burnout statistics obtained in a survey of 300 entrepreneurs, 63% of them report feeling burnt out

This phenomenon is especially troublesome for business owners who are often required to wear many hats in the day-to-day operations of their business while also being directly responsible for the growth and success of the business. These feelings are driven by many factors, but the most predominant include financial concerns, work-life balance, and day-to-day stress. 

At the same time, many entrepreneurs feel that there is a negative stigma surrounding burnout. According to the same survey, an overwhelming majority – 84% of business owners – agreed that there was a stigma associated with mental health. In turn, this often causes business owners to avoid seeking help, suffering from burnout in silence. 

Some symptoms of burnout can manifest as those associated with common mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, so it’s important to find ways to overcome the feelings of burnout before they take a toll on both your business and your health. The only difference is that burnout’s identifiable, singular cause is work.

What Are the Statistics on Small Business Failure?

Even with a strong business idea, success is not guaranteed. In fact, many businesses are threatened by an untimely demise. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20% of businesses fail within two years, 45% fail within five years, and 65% fail within ten years. 

Only 25% of businesses are fortunate enough to make it 15 years in business. This success rate has been fairly constant over the past 30 years. So why do businesses fail?

According to Investopedia, there are six primary reasons. These include:

  1. Failing to Investigate the Market: A successful business needs an opening within the market or needs to address an unmet need. Without this, it can be difficult to push your product or service, convincing people they need your business rather than addressing a gap that already exists.
  2. Weak Business Plan: A key to building a successful business is identifying realistic and attainable goals. A good business plan should have thorough research into the market, costs, requirements to run the business, and strategies that need to be implemented. Without these factors considered in the business plan, it is often more expensive and challenging to achieve the success you desire.
  3. Insufficient Finances: From the beginning, you should seek to strategically spend your financial resources. Make sure you have enough initial financing to cover expenses until your business starts making money. If you don’t, it may be difficult to obtain additional funding. Taking out too much money too early can lead to significant debt if your business idea fails to take off.
  4. Poor Presence: Whether your business operates in a physical location or online, it needs sufficient traffic to support it. Your business needs to make the most out of both marketing and online presence in order to attract new customers. If no one can find your business, it will be difficult to get the customers you need to survive. 
  5. Inflexibility: Even with a strong business plan, the market may change, and you may be forced to adapt. If you’re unable or unwilling to evolve, your business can be left behind when it no longer meets customer needs. Thus, you need to be willing to adapt to survive.
  6. Unsustainable Growth: As your business grows and you seek to expand, you’ll need to create a strategic plan just as you did when you first opened your business. If you’re expanding into new markets, this includes doing sufficient research to identify whether there is a market fit for new products or services. If you expand too fast, this can mean that you’ve cut corners and have inadequate plans to sustain your new growth. 

Just because businesses fail doesn’t mean that yours has to. Taking steps to properly plan and overcome feelings of burnout can help your business grow and achieve success.

How Stressful is it To Be a Business Owner?

It’s no secret that many professions can place a high amount of stress on individuals. However, burnout in small business is something that places an extreme level of stress on business owners. The average workweek is 40 hours, but business owners are often on the clock much longer. 

According to a study, 39% of small business owners work 60 or more hours per week. Additionally, 56% of business owners report that they work six or more days every week, while only 7% work fewer than four days. 

In addition, these small business owners face unique pressures that their employees don’t. Some of the top challenges faced by entrepreneurs are the uncertainty of owning a business, always being on the job, and avoiding burnout. 

Only an extremely small percentage of survey respondents – 4% – claimed that there are no challenges associated with being a business owner. Other concerns include worrying about finances, the sense of responsibility, and striking a balance between business and other areas of their lives. Even still, 94% of business owners believe they are at least somewhat successful in their business, and 84% of small business owners say that they would still build their own business if they had to do it all over again. 

These unique pressures can easily manifest as business owner burnout, especially if they persist without taking the right steps to reduce stress and mitigate factors that contribute to entrepreneur fatigue. 

What Are the Five Symptoms of Burnout?

If you’re a business owner experiencing burnout, one of the first steps to overcoming this stress is to identify the symptoms. Signs of burnout can manifest as feelings of exhaustion or irritability, but those aren’t the only things you may feel.

According to psychologist Dr. Adam Borland with the Cleveland Clinic, “If you’re used to going 100 miles an hour, and then suddenly take your foot off the accelerator, you’re now still going at 85. However, you may feel that that’s somehow not good enough because you’re so used to going at 100 miles an hour. There will be times when you have to go a little faster, but we can’t sustain that 100 miles an hour all the time.”

Let’s explore the five most common signs of burnout:

  1. Fatigue: Burnout can lead to extreme tiredness beyond simply feeling tired. This can make it harder to get out of bed in the morning, complete routine tasks, or simply make it through the day. Even after a night of sleep, you may wake up without feeling refreshed and still have an overwhelming urge to sleep.
  2. Apathy or Dissatisfaction: If you’ve thought, “I feel like quitting my business,” that could be a sign of burnout. It’s normal to have days where you may not want to go to work, but if the feeling is persistent and you feel dissatisfied with what you’re doing, you’re likely dealing with the effects of business owner burnout. 
  3. Tension Headaches: Tension headaches are common and are accompanied by mild-to-moderate pain, often described as a tight band around the head. These types of headaches are considered to be one of the most common types of headaches. Tension headaches are often caused by stress and lack of sleep that can be triggered by burnout in business. 
  4. Changes to Sleep or Eating Habits: Changes to sleep or eating patterns can be a sign that something is wrong as human behavior is often based on many habits formed over a lifetime. If you’re sleeping or eating more or less than what’s typical for you, it can be one of the signs of burnout.
  5. Mental Health: While burnout is not a medical condition, its symptoms share many similarities with depression or anxiety. Burnout is usually a direct response to specific events happening in your life, while depression doesn’t have to be in response to a specific trigger. Often, once you detach from work, the symptoms of business owner burnout will begin to dissipate. If you’re able to keep your feelings of stress under control, you likely won’t have to worry about an entrepreneur mental breakdown.

What Causes Business Burnout?

According to the US Chamber of Commerce, there are four primary factors that drive burnout in small business owners. These can be characterized as obsessive passion, social isolation, constant uncertainty, and overworking. 

While it’s important to be passionate about your business, obsessive passion, compared to harmonious passion, can result in burnout. Harmonious passion occurs when someone finds satisfaction in their work because they enjoy it and consider it to be a part of their identity, whereas obsessive passion is fueled by social status, money, or some other type of reward. Entrepreneurs with this type of passion often feel unable to step away from work and are more likely to feel dissatisfied with the work they do.

Without a network to support you, feelings of isolation can cause burnout just as much as a heavy workload. Social isolation can allow you to develop a narrow perspective and result in the inability to think creatively. Additionally, without trusted people that you’re able to turn to for support and advice, it can cause you to lose motivation and exacerbate stress. 

One of the drawbacks of starting your own business is financial insecurity. As mentioned previously, nearly half of all businesses fail within the first five years. If your business was to fail because of factors that are beyond your control, the idea of not having a plan in place for this worst-case scenario can weigh heavily on a business owner’s mind. 

Lastly, working long hours to build your business can add up and cause entrepreneur fatigue. Without enough time to rest, you may start to experience low levels of energy which can also lead to emotional exhaustion. Overworking is also likely to flow into other areas of your life, negatively affecting relationships with your friends and family.

What To Do When You Feel Overwhelmed with Business?

This question can have many different answers depending on the root cause of your burnout. However, identifying what to do when you begin feeling overwhelmed with your business is the first step toward entrepreneur burnout recovery. 

Sometimes, it may be challenging to detect burnout as it creeps up, and instead, you only know once you’ve become completely overwhelmed. The good news is that it is not irreversible. 

When you begin to feel like burnout in your business has taken hold, one of the most important things you can do is focus on your mental health. If you have not yet built a supportive network around you, seeking a therapist can help to overcome the pressures as you grow your business. 

Finding a therapist that you can trust can provide a neutral, safe place to discuss your fears and stresses without judgment. Additionally, a therapist is impartial – someone who isn’t a loved one or colleague – and able to provide trained advice on healthy ways to manage stress. 

Other self-care strategies can help as you begin to feel overwhelmed. Consider starting an exercise routine, practicing mindfulness, building a daily routine, and establishing boundaries with work and business to alleviate burnout. 

Once you’ve identified burnout in business and its associated feelings, you can be better equipped to respond to and avoid the feelings in the future, before they grow too extreme.  

How Do You Recover from Entrepreneurial Burnout?

Since burnout is not a medical condition, but a direct response to the pressures of building your business, a great way to begin entrepreneur burnout recovery is to begin building strong boundaries between your business and your personal life. For example, as technology has grown increasingly prevalent in business, it creates channels that allow employees, customers, and even business partners to reach you around the clock. 

While it is important to have a clear picture of how your business is doing and be available for emergencies even when you’re not working, developing boundaries is necessary in order to preserve your mental health and reduce stress. 

However, it is also important to identify strategies that can help grow your business while avoiding developing high levels of stress that can lead to burnout. 

How Can Small Business Owners Avoid Fatigue and Burnout?

Once you’ve identified the symptoms of business owner burnout and have taken steps to reduce your feelings of stress, you’ll want to create a plan to help avoid it in the future. According to the Harvard Business Review, here are five tips to help you manage the stress of owning a business:

  1. Have compassion for yourself: Being a business owner comes with a lot of responsibility, which can cause you to worry. Mitigate these feelings by practicing compassion towards yourself and recognizing that there are realistic limits to the things you can achieve in a day.
  2. Track your time: Business owners are busy, but research has shown that humans tend to exaggerate the amount of time they actually spend working. If you continually think about the long hours you spend at work, your emotions will often respond accordingly. Begin by tracking the time you spend working, and your habits should begin to change naturally. Be sure to limit work activities, even checking your email or answering a call, during non-work time, and incorporate meaningful non-work activities into your day. 
  3. Don’t fall victim to others’ expectations: Avoid getting caught up in what you think other people expect from you. For example, your assumption may be to respond to an email fast, even if it comes in outside of your working hours. Instead, let people know when you’ll realistically get back to them and prioritize the things you need to get done.
  4. Reconsider what success means: Don’t base your ideas of success on what you think you need to achieve. Identify assumptions about success that could be contributing to your burnout and identify a more realistic alternative.
  5. Don’t wait for the “right” time to relax: Take the opportunity to get some time away from work, whether it’s for an evening or a weekend. When you’re able to take a break and see that the business is still running smoothly, this can help ease your anxieties about taking time to unwind. 

These practices can help you avoid fatigue, so you can stop letting your business control your life and instead let you control your business. 

How Can I Grow My Business Without Burnout?

One of the great things about owning your own business is the freedom it can give you to make your own rules and establish a schedule that works for your life. Still, it is often difficult to maintain a balance within your business so that you are able to avoid succumbing to feelings of stress and experiencing symptoms of burnout. 

One of the most important things you can do is to establish priorities. As a business owner, you have many tasks and responsibilities to juggle, so identify which are most pressing and prioritize accordingly. Working to prioritize can also help you build good business habits that allow you to manage your time accordingly. 

After you’ve identified which things need to be accomplished and when, build a schedule that will allow you to achieve important tasks within a realistic timeframe. Set specific work hours, customized to your business model, and stick to them. Within these hours, use your time wisely and work towards accomplishing your goals. Setting this schedule is also helpful when establishing boundaries between work and non-work time. While it is impossible to predict or avoid emergencies in some scenarios, disrupting non-work time to complete work tasks is a bad habit that should be avoided as much as possible.

In the same vein, if you’re an entrepreneur that works remotely, you can also try to switch your routine. Instead of working from your home office every day, try working from a quiet coffee shop or coworking space, or even spend some time outdoors while checking things off your to-do list. Even a simple change of pace and scenery can help to give you a new perspective and improve your mood. 

Lastly, after you feel like you’ve gotten into a good routine, work on building a network of like-minded professionals that can become a support system when dealing with stress and burnout. Other entrepreneurs have likely felt similarly as they’ve worked to grow their businesses, so seeking their advice can uncover tested strategies for alleviating burnout in small business. Try joining local business groups or finding a mentor that you’ll be able to turn to when you need help.

One such resource is 3to5 Club, a collaborative learning group for serious business owners and entrepreneurs. 3to5 Club seeks to connect like-minded entrepreneurs and provide guidance that empowers them to rediscover their passion for their business, the tools needed to make more money in less time, and the support needed for entrepreneur burnout recovery. 

The only way to truly know the value of being in a community of like-minded individuals in a 3to5 Club is to experience it. We believe in this value so much that we let everyone visit for one month at no charge and with no obligation!