Workplace Stress

Channeling stress positively could take your business to the next level

When was the last time you felt stressed? The chances are it wasn’t long ago. In today’s ‘always on’ society, it can be very difficult to escape the tensions of day-to-day life.

For some, stress can be a positive influence – helping us to reach optimum levels of productivity and using the pressure to drive better performance. Some theories propose that experiencing manageable stress can make us more mentally and physically resilient and less prone to future stress.

But this theory relies on manageable stress, with adequate recovery time, and for many – especially small business owners – this isn’t achievable.

For example, recent research found that a third (35%) of company owners completely lose the motivation to continue running their business due to stress at least once a year. In all honesty, this isn’t surprising. Running a business is tough, no matter what the size of it, and I know from my own experience that being pulled in all directions and juggling priorities can be tiring.

For a small business owner this sense of being stretched could be more acute, as there may not be the expertise within the business to fall back on for support. We asked 500 SME owners what their top struggles were when they set up their business. The results showed that cost (40%), understanding the legislation around setting up a business (37%) and the time it took to take a business plan to reality (30%) were the biggest concerns. A further 26% said they struggled with knowing who to turn to for advice.

So, for this Mental Health Awareness Week, I’m reminding myself and my teams of the importance of taking a step back and not letting stress get in the way of business success. Yes, stress can be difficult to avoid but below are some tips we’ve gathered that can help.

You can’t be an expert all the time

One of the trickiest parts of being a business leader is knowing when to defer to others. As the boss, theoretically you have the last say and people automatically expect you to have the answer, even when you don’t. Don’t spend your time trying to know everything – trust other people to give you their best advice and free yourself up to add the most value you can.

There isn’t enough time to be up to speed with every legislative change or legal loophole, so use experts where you can and empower them to make the right choices. They’ll benefit, as they will feel trusted and more engaged, and you’ll have time to lead.

Motivation matters

We all have jobs we don’t like doing – budget planning, for example - so there will always be something that stays at the bottom of the to-do list. However, for your business to be a success, it’s vital you don’t lose momentum or motivation. Delegate where you can (for smaller businesses this will be trickier but people can be upskilled) or mix up what you’re doing on a weekly basis.

Break routine by situating yourself somewhere completely new, in order to tackle the job you’ve been struggling to get done in your usual workspace. A change of environment is unexpectedly effective at refreshing your mind and creativity. Whether you find a quiet café, or take your laptop on a train journey, remove yourself from all distractions and focus on the task in hand.

Take a break

This may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how holiday or days off can be pushed when an important project is on the horizon. When your livelihood depends on your own business, there’s an inherent pressure to not miss any opportunity, which can often result in work taking the priority.

Our research showed that 27% of SME decision makers’ holiday plans had been disrupted by work and a further 41% had been asked by their family to stop working and spend more time with them. Whilst success will be a driving factor for many, remember you can only do so much. Use holidays to recharge as otherwise the constant state of stress and lack of relaxation will burn you out. The physical and mental effects of burnout will have a detrimental effect on the business, so take the time and space to escape. This will help boost motivation when you return.

Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint, so leaders really do need to remember they’re not infallible and need a break too. Whilst stress can be a motivator, it can also be a source of negativity, so tackling it with everyday hacks is a great way to keep yourself fresh and on course for success.

Seek help

Small businesses need to support each other, and as leaders we can forget that we are allowed to ask others for advice. No human is an island, and there can be incredible benefit in seeking a coaching or networking opportunity.

Finding someone outside of your business to use as a sounding board can be a fantastic opportunity to get help in a concentrated way. This is especially pertinent if you’re a one-man band – the support that talking and sharing provides is invaluable, and can provide guidance and infrastructure where otherwise there is none.

Look externally for inspiration and a helping hand. Join an #FSBConnect networking group run by the Federation of Small Businesses, or seek nationwide initiatives like Small Business Saturday to connect and foster community spirit. Being solitary can enhance stress, so make sure you reach out and find resources that can help, reinvigorate and re-inspire you.

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