The Small Business Balancing Act
January 20, 2024
Navigating the Complex Web of Well-Being for You and Your Employees
Running a business is hard work! Many of us begin our businesses because our skills, experiences and passions have made us uniquely qualified to create and deliver an important good or service to benefit our communities. This work gives us purpose and relies on our energy and commitment to build from the initial seed of an idea to a flourishing business.
Despite our qualifications and passions, the day-to-day operations of the small business leader can be rife with challenges and difficulties. Common challenges include: 1) maintaining a healthy work-life balance, 2) feeling isolated, 3) managing burnout (our own and employees’), and 4) navigating the often stressful and unpredictable economic environment.
As a marriage and family therapist by training, and co-owner of a group mental health practice, I am not immune to the inherent stressors of running a small business. Yet I have learned some helpful tools both through my own experiences, as well as from many of my clients who are leaders in their fields, also navigating the ups and downs of small business ownership. Hopefully some of this collective wisdom can offer support to you as you seek well-being for you and your employees.
Walking the Work-Life Tightrope
One of the most pervasive issues for small business owners is the delicate balancing act between work and personal life. The demands of our businesses can lead to a significant work-life imbalance, impacting our well-being and relationships. What skills can we develop to mitigate this common issue?
Creating clear boundaries between your work and personal life is paramount. Commit to stepping away from work during non-business hours, and encourage your employees to do the same. Remember: your well-being is essential for the success of your business.
Self-care isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Allocate time for activities that rejuvenate you, whether it’s pursuing a hobby, engaging in regular exercise or spending quality moments with loved ones. Keep in mind that a rested mind is more creative and resilient. A former business leader client of mine once told me, “I’m too busy NOT to prioritize my self-care routine. Without it I’d be a very unpleasant person to be around! Both for my family and my team.”
Delegation and Empowerment
Trust your team to handle tasks and responsibilities. Empower your employees to take ownership and make decisions. By sharing the load and building a reliable team, you’ll reduce your own stress and cultivate a more positive workplace.
You Are Not Alone
The entrepreneurial journey can be a solitary one, with no colleagues or superiors to lean on for guidance and support. The isolation can sometimes feel overwhelming. How can we avoid the pain of isolation in our work?
Seek out local business groups, associations and industry events. For example, SBAM offers many great networking opportunities. These events, and events like it, can be the perfect way to connect with fellow entrepreneurs and can provide valuable insights, collaboration opportunities and a sense of camaraderie. Don’t underestimate the power of networking.
Consider seeking mentorship from experienced business owners who have been through the ups and downs. A mentor can offer guidance, share their experiences and provide a valuable sounding board for your ideas and challenges.
Build a Support System
Surround yourself with friends, family and advisors who understand the unique challenges of entrepreneurship. Their emotional support and understanding can help you navigate the inevitable rough patches.
Keep the Energy Going: For You AND Your Team
Employee burnout can have severe consequences for your business, including decreased productivity and morale among your team members. Preventing burnout is essential. COVID and the years following have been tough on everyone, especially on employees.
Maintaining positive relationships with your employees is vital for productivity and well-being. However, the stresses of running a business can sometimes strain these connections. We can support our employees and cultivate a relational workplace culture by focusing on the following:
Foster a culture of open communication where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas and concerns. Encourage regular feedback and be an active listener. When employees feel heard they are more likely to stay engaged and satisfied.
Recognition and Appreciation
Acknowledge and reward your team’s contributions. Express gratitude regularly, whether through verbal appreciation, bonuses or small gestures like employee of the month programs. Feeling valued motivates employees to give their best.
Invest in your employees’ growth through training, mentorship and opportunities for advancement. Show a genuine interest in their career aspirations. When employees see a future within your company, they are more likely to stay committed and engaged.
Promote work-life balance within your organization. Offer flexible schedules, remote work options and realistic workload expectations. Encourage employees to use their vacation days and take breaks to recharge.
Recognize Signs of Burnout
Be vigilant about recognizing the signs of burnout in your team. Increased absenteeism, decreased enthusiasm for work (aka “quiet quitting”) and declining performance are all potential indicators. Address these signs promptly and constructively.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
Consider offering Employee Assistance Programs that provide access to counseling and support for personal issues. EAPs can be a valuable resource for employees facing challenges outside of work that may be impacting their well-being.
Managing the Weight of Responsibility
The responsibilities of running a business, coupled with eco- nomic uncertainties, can lead to chronic stress and anxiety. These emotions can affect not only your mental health but also your decision-making abilities. How can we best protect our emotional and mental health amid both the stress of our daily “to-do list” and the economic uncertainties beyond our control?
Stress Management Techniques
Incorporate stress-reduction practices into your daily routine. Mindfulness, meditation or yoga are excellent tools for managing anxiety. These practices can help you stay grounded, reduce the impact of stress and improve overall well-being.
Seek Professional Help
Don’t hesitate to seek therapy or counseling when needed. Speaking to a mental health professional can provide valuable coping strategies and emotional support. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to seek help. Another client of mine once told me, “I can’t believe there was a time I ran my business without going to therapy. I’m not sure how I did it. Therapy has offered me the space I had always been looking for. It’s a place I do not have to be “on” for anyone; a place I can just exhale for a few minutes each week and catch my breath before jumping back into all the things waiting for me on my to-do list.”
Conclusion: Embrace the Journey
Small business owners navigate a path filled both with challenges and opportunities for growth and fulfillment. By addressing the above four critical aspects of the entrepreneurial journey, we can build a healthier, more resilient business and enjoy a more balanced and rewarding life.
Remember, you’re not alone on this adventure. Seeking support, both professionally and personally, and acknowledging the significance of self-care and open communication, are pivotal in thriving as a small business owner. Success in entrepreneurship extends beyond business achievements; it encompasses overall well-being.
By Dan Zomerlei, PhD; originally published in SBAM’s January/February 2024 issue of FOCUS magazine