Ask An Expert: Small Business Burnout

Q: I have owned three businesses in the past 20 years. While I always have really enjoyed being an entrepreneur, I find lately that I am just burned out. But I don’t want to go work for someone else, and yet I am too young to retire. —


A: Job and work burnout is something we all deal with, but for some reason, it isn’t a topic often discussed in relation to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. Maybe that is because “living the dream” (for better or worse) means that people don’t want to hear about it, or maybe it’s because entrepreneurs tend to be an optimistic lot, but whatever the reason, the fact is, small business owners deal with job burnout just as much as everyone else.

Why is that? Because small business owners work hard – most work very hard, probably too hard. On a daily basis, a small business owner usually has a ton of tasks to complete. More broadly, statistics show that small business owners take less vacation time than other workers. Simply put, it is easier to take time off when that is built into your job description and you will get that paycheck deposited while you are gone.

Combining long days with a lack of time off and doing that year after year is a classic recipe for work burnout.

So what is the small business owner to do? The trick is to mix it up. Here are a few ways that have been known to work:

• Change your physical environment: The great architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller dedicated his life to the proposition that if you give people the right physical environments, they will, naturally, be happier, make better choices, be healthier and overall be more effective.

One of the easiest – and most affordable – things you can do then if you have been working in the same space for a long time is simply to change it. Paint. Rearrange the furniture. Re-decorate.

You might even consider moving to a new location as a new space will require new thinking, effort and creativity on your part. Sure, this solution seems rather extreme, but work burnout is even more serious.

Dead energy creates a dead business.

• Change your habits: Burnout occurs for many reasons, but one is that you simply have fallen into some habits. Habits in and of themselves, of course, are not necessarily bad, unless they cause you to become robotic and to stop thinking.

Work habits you might change include how you get to work (Could you use public transit, or ride you bike or walk?) and your daily schedule.

• Work out: Exercise is a well-known way to change attitudes and health. Indeed, according to a new study out in Sweden, physical activity definitely reduces a person’s risk for depression, and I would suggest that burnout is another word for depression.

• Connect: What about joining some business, entrepreneurial, or networking groups? Surround yourself with new people and new ideas.

• Take a class: One symptom of burnout is a lack of creativity. Taking a class, and not necessarily a business class, can get those ol’ synapses firing again. What about that pottery class you always wanted to take?

• Take on a new project: Doing the same thing again and again is another main cause for work burnout, so it only makes sense that doing something different can be an elixir. By stretching your abilities and doing something new, you will be forced to learn something new and do things in a new and different way.

All in all, left unchecked, work and job burnout is a serious problem, even causing one to potentially leave a perfectly fine business.

The answer: Mix it up.

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