What do you do for a living?
This is often the first question asked when meeting someone new. But what happens when what you do for a living is the business you built from the ground up, your life’s biggest risk and greatest hope. It can easily become not just what we do, but who we are. When so much time, energy and headspace is devoted to this one thing that is truly your own, it can be difficult to separate “work” and “life”.
Drawing the line between business health and mental health
The idea of being your own boss is a romantic notion, who would want to taint it by talking about the stresses that go on behind the scenes. It is difficult to claim your greatest achievement and in the same breath admit to the negative effect it may be having on your wellbeing.
However, the impact business ownership has is almost indisputable, with three quarters of owners admitting in private that it adversely affects their mental health. That can take on many forms and severities, but to dismiss or underestimate it can be a big mistake. I’ve seen owners holding their struggles back behind a brave face for years, putting off getting support and winding up with an emotional breakdown. It’s more common than any of us would like to admit.
In my experience, it is very rare for a business owner to openly discuss their concerns, which means there’s almost certainly even more people in pain than we’ve uncovered. As an advisor, unless you have a very close relationship, it typically comes down to assessing behaviors and asking direct, educated questions in regards to the issues they may be struggling with. But those conversations are some of the most important that an advisor can ever have. Talking openly and relieving some of the pent-up pressure can help prevent something as common as business stresses and anxieties from turning into something as severe as a mental breakdown or knock-on stress related physical illness. Unfortunately, these are all scenarios I’ve encountered with owners I’ve supported.
It is important to note that in many cases mental health stresses can show themselves suddenly and it’s critical that as a business owner you are aware of and heed the signs your body is telling you. The facade that everything is perfectly under control may work for those around you, but won’t give you the space to improve. While it may be an uncomfortable topic to broach, it’s usually best not to go it alone.
Deciding who you can turn to
It is challenging to open up, especially when it feels like no one can relate. Nearly half of business owners are convinced that no one could possibly understand the pressure they are under, so what would be the point of talking about it?
In reality there is probably some small truth to that, no one person is likely to understand all the things you are going through, but therein lies the importance of developing a support network.
Finding people outside of your business, who understand the difficulties of being an owner, but who can also put steps in place to alleviate the pressure, is critical to stop day to day pressures turning into more serious stress related health issues.
At the same time, private concerns and stresses may be best understood by a family member or close trusted friend. Sometimes the best advice and empathy will come from someone who may not understand the business but understands you as an individual and has your best interests in mind.
In other cases, the best option may be to seek help from an impartial third party. Getting an external opinion can add perspective and challenge you to think in different ways, without the fear of offending or damaging an existing relationship. Our research shows that only 2% of business owners say they have ever sought help from a third party, maybe now is a good time to start.
The network you seek for each specific issue will largely depend on the nature of the concern and its complexity. That’s why it’s critical to build a wide, complex support network to stand by you through the inevitable ups and downs of business ownership.
To get advice and practical solutions on easing the pressure, and the support of a trusted expert who knows what it’s like to be in the driving seat, speak to one of our partners.
Regional Managing Partner, Haines Watts
Our research shows that one in ten business owners have never fully removed themselves from their business for more than a single day