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Overcoming business burnout after a tough year

As we come to the end of another tough year, it seems like everyone has one word on the brain: burnout.

Searches for "signs of burnout" have increased by 221% in the last three months, while mentions of "burnout" on Glassdoor reviews are up 128% since April 2021.

Stress is a rising concern for small business owners. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) found that 63% of SME owners have recently overlooked their personal wellbeing due to the pressures of running their business.

Why are we all feeling burnt out?

So what's driving the change? UKBF member experiences on the recent thread "I'm burning out running a business" suggest that it's a combination of factors.

Small businesses have had a lot of change to cope with in the past 18 months. There have been near-constant changes to Covid regulations, as well as new rules to implement post-Brexit. Then there are the constant health concerns to add to the mix.

It's hardly surprising the nation is feeling exhausted.

'We've had Brexit to deal with, then Covid and now massive inflation,' says @SillyBill.

'Our margins have dropped off considerably over the last few weeks because I haven't been as proactive as I needed to be. I am shattered and counting down the days until I can have a few days off.'

What is burnout?

Recognising the signs of burnout is the first step to dealing with the problem. It's easy to focus on the day-to-day needs of the business and put your own needs to one side.

Take a step back and see if you identify with any of these common signs of burnout:

  • Lower productivity and lack of concentration
  • Negative thoughts
  • Less interest in your work
  • Feeling physically and emotionally exhausted
  • Insomnia
  • Extreme stress

How to deal with burnout

If you recognise some of these signs but haven't done anything about them, you're not alone.

BACP's study found that 56% of business owners feel they need help with their mental health but don't know where to start.

The UKBF community has weighed in with great ideas on how you can readdress the balance. We've compiled some of the best below:

  1. Get more sleep
It's common to feel physically exhausted and mentally drained when you have burnout - but the irony is that your quality of sleep often suffers too.

If this sounds familiar, establish a regular sleep routine. Avoid screens for at least an hour before going to bed and try not to work too much in the evenings if possible.

UKBF member @Lucan Unlordly addressed his sleeping habits after a doctor flagged it up as an issue.

'The hospital doctor said I was knocking decades off of my life due to lack of quality uninterrupted sleep,' he explained.

'Taking his advice, after just a few days of improved shut eye, I'm focusing better, making better decisions and am much less stressed. Nothing has changed at work, but it took a medical wake up call for me to realise the answer lay in my hands.'

  1. Take time out
This is particularly important when you run your own small business and feel like everything will fall apart if you're not there.

'There's the pressure to 'keep going', which is a bit of a false economy because you then never recover and get your enthusiasm back,' says @The Supplier Central.

'When I feel like this, I give myself permission for a week to only do the essentials and either just go for a lot of walks or take a break and focus on tasks that I enjoy to try and get some of my mojo back!'

  1. Take advantage of the quiet periods
If you find it hard to take time off, factor a break in when you know there's less to do. Most businesses have busier and quieter periods, so get to know the rhythm of your trading times and plan in a break without feeling guilty.

'Our industry has been busy for over two years. I just got to the point where every day was a drag, but I carried on as I wanted to make hay in case everything stopped,' says @tony84.

'I reckon next week will be busy and then it usually dies down until mid-February. I will just enjoy the break and hopefully start afresh in the new year.'

  1. Downsize the business
Downsizing may sound drastic, but many business owners experience burnout when they grow their company too quickly. Reducing the size of the business doesn't have to be a sign of failure, but it can significantly reduce your working hours and stress levels.

Consider all the different parts of your business and ask:

  • Which areas are the most and least profitable?
  • What requires the most staff to operate properly?
  • What do you enjoy the most?
  • Is there something that could be outsourced?
  • What could be reduced or removed without affecting other areas of the business?
The answers to these questions could point towards a part of the business that you could run down. This is the approach that @DavidWH took with his family business.

'I work with my dad and during lockdown the penny dropped, I literally took an axe to the business. I halved the workshop size and sold one van and a load of machinery,' he said.

'I couldn't be happier! We use more subcontractors, which works 99% of the time, and produce in house what we can that generates a higher margin. My dad's reduced his days and I rarely work Friday afternoon.'

Talk to someone

Who do you talk to when you're feeling the stress of running your own business? According to BACP's research, most business owners bottle up their worries rather than sharing them with someone else.

Nearly all respondents (96%) said they keep the stress of running a business to themselves. Despite the pressures that small business owners face, 71% said that they often pretend to family, friends and work colleagues that everything is ok.

Hopefully, UKBF provides a place for you to share any concerns or worries you have. But it's also really important to have someone who's close to you that you can call up any time.

If you don't feel comfortable talking to loved ones, a business mentor can be another avenue to explore. They will have been through a lot of similar situations and be able to offer support and advice.

Wellbeing at work schemes

Wellbeing isn't something you should switch on and off. Think about how you can embed it across the whole business, to benefit you and your employees.

'I would encourage SME owners to form a 'wellbeing plan', akin to a business plan,' advises BACP member Michelle Seabrook.

'Focus on what your wellbeing intentions are for the business: how will you support your own and your employee's mental health?'

UKBF member @presentationgenius has had success with something similar.

'I have a policy for me and all my staff of up to half a day a week 'off' for personal development. It's been a lifesaver in terms of just-bloody-coping-when-things-go-belly-up!'

How do you cope with the stress of running your business?

How do you cope when you're feeling stressed or run down at work? We'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments below, or join the discussion on the UKBF forum.

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