According to a study commissioned by accounting software company, xero, many entrepreneurs struggle with the psychological impact of navigating their business through the pandemic. Indeed, dealing with the emotional ramifications is proving more difficult than the rather prosaic but necessary task of getting their businesses back on a sound financial footing. The question is: how can they best help themselves?
Operated by polling station opinion and the Center for Economic and Business Research92 percent of small business owners have experienced mental health problems in the past two years. Perhaps more disturbingly, 40 people say solving their psychological problems will likely take longer than financial recovery.
The psychological well-being of entrepreneurs is a perennial topic. Even in the best of times, small business founders have to make tough decisions—which affect not only themselves but also employees—often with very little practical or moral support. This takes its toll and depression and anxiety are not uncommon.
An emotional toll
But the pandemic has kicked things into high gear. Decisions to cut staff, close altogether or continue as normal were made against a backdrop of rising death tolls, restrictions on movement and association and a pervasive fear. By all standards, entrepreneurs were operating in extreme conditions. Unsurprisingly, quite a few are still processing the emotional fallout.
Pushing too hard
As the report points out, one of the biggest problems founders faced has been the relentless pressure – self-imposed or not – to navigate their way through the pandemic. The majority did not take sick days, and even when it was found that their mental health was suffering, only 21 percent took time off. This not only led to a short-term burnout, but also to possible long-term psychological problems.
Now the question is whether the pandemic is really over. What’s less up for debate is that companies face a whole host of new problems, ranging from inflation and staff shortages to disrupted supply lines.
So if the problems don’t go away, what’s the best way to deal with them?
The lessons of burnout
Jessica Rose has been there, seen it and bought the t-shirt. As founder of the Jewelers Academy, she runs an online business that teaches jewelry making classes. Until the pandemic hit, she also ran a physical school in London’s Hatton Garden.
It is therefore not surprising that the future of the physical business was immediately at stake. “At first we didn’t know if it should close. It was very difficult,” she says. “There were a lot of frustrated people to deal with (the students) and the staff didn’t know if their jobs were safe.”
It was decided to close the school, with tuition transferring to the online academy. “Once I made the decision, things got better,” added Rose.
Lessons from the past
It could have been overwhelming. That it wasn’t was largely due to the fact that Rose had previously suffered burnout when the pressure to grow a business became too much.
“I had a year without my business when I wasn’t eating right, exercising right, or sleeping well,” she says.
As she recalls, the pressure was very high. The physical school was located in Hatton Gardens, an area with high rents. “So there was always the pressure to get enough bookings.”
Then there was the fact that this was what Rose describes as a “passion” business, not just for itself but for the staff as well. The temptation to work too hard was always present.
Learning to stop
Simply put, like many people who run small businesses, Rose was burned out. The question is how do you get past it.
In Rose’s case, the answer was simple. You have to allow yourself to stop. Take time off from work. Take a break from constantly answering the phone. Limit email. “You have to do everything you can to stop,” she says. “Remind yourself that the world won’t end if you don’t answer an email.
In addition, Rose worked to make sure she was getting enough exercise, eating healthy foods, and engaging in exercises such as meditation.
Taking time out will go against the grain for many entrepreneurs and – depending on how much support there is within the company – it can be difficult to delegate. This is especially true for very small businesses. But Rose’s experience suggests that if you can take a step back, it’s worth doing. The alternative may be that the symptoms of burnout persist and evolve into even more serious psychological problems.
a different perspective
Rose feels that the burnout experience has given her a perspective that has helped her deal with the arguably even more difficult problems caused by the pandemic as they arose.
Part of that was understanding that even the most intense periods of hard work pass. Then you can take a break. Rose also believes that the ambition to grow a business doesn’t have to be all-encompassing. There should be time for outdoor living and vacations. Importantly, she also encourages employees to take time off and avoid the problems of burnout.
All of this doesn’t necessarily make difficult decisions easier. But you may be able to step back and see a bigger picture. For example, during the pandemic, physical school workers were offered jobs in the virtual business. In that regard, Rose says she tried to take care of her team. But, she says, it’s important to realize that you can’t be responsible for other people’s lives.
One of the consequences of the pandemic is that companies are more aware of and investing in the well-being of employees. This is a win/win, according to the Xero survey, as it is associated with improved performance. Investing in wellness may not go straight to the bottom line, but it can pay dividends later on.