Business Owner Burnout – How to recognise and deal with it

With around 60% of business owners in all sectors admitting to their feeling ‘isolated’ or ‘lonely’ at least part of the time, it’s no wonder that ‘burnout’ has become the most common reason for business sales.  Up until recently, though, ‘burnout’ has been swept under the carpet as much as possible by suffering company founders.

Perhaps it’s been viewed as a weakness or a symptom of failure by those in decision-making roles.  For all that, few seem to know what it actually is. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has had a couple of stabs at defining it. Here’s its latest version: “Burnout: syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” That still sounds a bit vague, especially for stressed out business owners who want a straightforward answer to the question, “What is going on with me?”

HOW TO RECOGNISE BURNOUT Although ‘Burnout’ can play a part in triggering depression, it is not depression itself. While a general low mood often accompanies it, the characteristics all relate specifically to work. Look out for these signs:

1)   CYNICISM: when you no longer believe in what you’re doing, either short term or long term.

2)   LETHARGY: when you can barely bring yourself to do what you know you ought to do.

3)   POOR PERFORMANCE: as a result of the above, deadlines and targets are missed and staff morale begins to dip.

ARE YOU A FLOUNDERING FOUNDER? Burnout is tough for anyone at work. When it befalls the owner of the company, however, it produces a knock-on effect to staff, shareholders, board members and affiliates that can be devastating for the business itself. The company ethos and character is experienced from the top down, and so everybody suffers as a result.

As the statistics show, burnout is now the main reason for business sales. By the time the owner’s energy has dried and he or she makes the decision to sell, however, the value the business has usually dropped significantly due to the overall dip in performance.  “It took me nearly fourteen months to face the fact that it was time to sell,” says David, a fifty-three-year old former CEO. “For at least that amount of time I’d been in battle with myself. I knew which direction we were supposed to be going in and also knew how much energy it needed on my part to steer us there – but somehow, I’d lost the spark. The company had evolved since its early days and so had I, I guess. I just didn’t resonate with my role anymore – and there really wasn’t anyone there I could say that to. Actually, the pressure of trying to hide it from everyone at work just made things worse.  I sat with it too long before making the decision to sell.”

He’s far from alone. Selling is not always the only option, of course. Very often, burnout can be addressed and dealt with. If you recognise the symptoms described above in yourself, then resolve to talk about them with somebody that you trust or a trained therapist or counsellor. That is the first step towards a rejuvenated you.

FINDING RENEWED PURPOSE Once you’ve released the pressure valve by starting to talk things through, you’ll be free to recover your sense of purpose once more. It might take months, a lengthy break from work and some new personal boundaries, but it is certainly achievable. Here are some steps towards recovery that you can try:

1)   Hire a business or life coach while you see an external therapist. It’s important to understand what’s happening to you but just as important to understand how you can work with yourself better in the future.

2)   Counteract the effects of burnout by making sure that you get at least seven hours’ sleep – as much of a nightly routine as you can create.

3)   Leave work at work every day. Switch off – and that means your phone, too. No emails, no social media … nothing other than personal time should happen after 6pm for the duration of your recovery.

4)   Dig up an old hobby or take up a new one – concentrate on balancing your life better between work and play.

5)   Socialise with somebody outside of work at least once a week. A coffee after a workout at the gym with someone, or quick one at the pub with a neighbour or friend.   The sooner you act on this the better for your business so that your company’s worth is not affected too badly. The longer you wait, the worse it will be – a harsh fact but true. Standing still is tantamount to going backwards, remember.

TO SELL OR NOT TO SELL? Depending on how many shareholders your company has, this may or may not be entirely your choice.

Assess the risk to the business and ask yourself: ·

How did the feelings that have led to your burnout start? Was it with you, or was it the actions of others that changed the direction of management? ·

Were you to step back from your role for the mid-term, could you delegate your role’s functions to others in the team with little to no impact?

It’s always preferable, of course, to get you back on track as you should be. If the company’s value has dropped too far, though, or if you feel that its direction has changed too much for you to take forwards, then selling can be a viable option and a very attractive one, too.

It takes time to get your business in shipshape, ready for sale. You need to research and have the facts at your fingertips before you make any big decisions. This, after all, is your business and life’s work on the line.

Find out how you can start to prepare your business for sale without having to make any premature decisions by talking to one of the team at EvolutionCBS.

Join EvolutionCBS for one of our acclaimed “How2” business owner workshops, held in the UK and UAE

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