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How to prevent burnout in a small business

If you are an owner of a small business it’s very easy to overlook your own self-care or that of your employees. You are probably overwhelmed by the workload and the responsibility and before you know it burnout can creep up on you or your people. I know because it happened to me many years ago. 

After listening to the ‘You and Yours’ programme on Radio 4 last week ‘Have you been affected by stress at work?’ it gave a clear indication of how many people are suffering the effects of stress and burnout at work. Poor management was identified as one of the main reasons for stress and as an owner of a small business, where there is no HR, it is something that is very important to be aware of and the need to develop a resilience and wellbeing culture no matter how small the business.

When as a young ambitious professional I suffered from burnout there was no support or understanding from the owner of what I was going through. The focus was purely on the bottom line and not on the people that worked long hours with little or no support or resources to create the business. In fact it was very difficult to even mention the word ‘stress’ as it was something that was not talked about and I was scared that I would lose my job.

The results of a recent survey of 1,078 professionals carried out by CIPD and Simply Health of over 1,078 companies in the UK that stated that almost two fifths of businesses in the UK have seen an increase in stress-related absences over the past year with managers and management style increasingly being blamed. Poor management style was blamed for 43% of stress related absence, an increase from 32% from the previous year.

This recent worrying survey surely highlights the urgent need for owners and managers of small businesses to invest in resources that focus on the importance of creating a culture of resilience and wellbeing to reduce stress before you or a member of your workforce experiences burnout. 

So what actions can you take to reduce the chance of burnout and improve you and your people’s well-being?

Make self-care a team goal

It is really important to demonstrate to your people that you take the issue of stress seriously. By making this clear by authentically raising the issue of workplace stress it will make it easier for individuals to share their worries or concerns without feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed. When people are under stress they often feel it is a personal failing, which it is not, so by speaking openly about stress it will encourage people to feel that you understand and will really actively listen to them. 

Lead from the front

Before you can help others you need to manage your own stress. Taking care of yourself is not an indulgent luxury, it is essential for your health and wellbeing. Acknowledging how you feel when stressed and your emotional reactions will better place you to understand how others feel. Take notice of the people who work for you and think seriously about how you are going to help them get what they need. Consider work practices and behaviours that could be improved. It is important to know you must act when you see someone having a difficult time and provide support. Don’t ignore it.

Call an end to the working day

People always think by working longer hours you produce more, but it’s not the case. When we are overworked we are less efficient, make mistakes and find it difficult to concentrate. Why not set a limit where emails are not sent after the working day, at weekends or when people are on holiday. This is becoming more popular as good managers realise that it is necessary to make downtime a priority and show your people that time out to rest and rejuvenate is important. It also sends out the message to your employees that you value them.


Focus on the why

A common cause of stress and burnout at work is when there is a disconnect between a person’s values and the work. As an owner of a small business you need to clearly convey the reason for the work and the objective. Being engaged with your people and with a shared sense of purpose is key to people feeling more positively about their work.


Demonstrate compassion

The world we live in is demanding and frenetic and it means many of us are feeling under pressure constantly. Compassion can make a huge difference to the working environment. By committing to actively practice kindness inwardly and outwardly you will create a psychologically calmer and safer place for everyone. Show your employees that you appreciate that the workload is great but that you can deliver by positively supporting each other to achieve the objective.  


Promote positivity and optimism

When you are experiencing particularly heavy workloads or demanding deadlines make a concerted effort to be positive and optimistic. Think about your behaviour and the impact it has on your employees and be aware of how you can acknowledge, appreciate and recognise people’s efforts. Actively cultivate a feeling of support and empathy.  


Creating the right organisational culture and management style that supports good mental health and promotes wellbeing of the employees is essential to ensure your business and your people thrive. It is up to owners and managers to set out clearly to your employees how you will support them, your expectations and how you continue to address their need for training or support.

Make coaching resilience and wellbeing a priority and reap the rewards of investing in your people and your business no matter how small it is. 


*It has been highlighted by the recent results of a survey of 1,078 professionals carried out by CIPD and Simply Health of over 1,078 companies in the UK that stated that almost two fifths of businesses in the UK have seen an increase in stress-related absences over the past year with managers and management style increasingly being blamed. Poor management style was blamed for 43% of stress related absence, an increase from 32% from the previous year.


Kate Darbyshire Evans

Kate Darbyshire Evans

Helping women entrepreneurs and designers in the fashion industry who struggle with overwhelm and anxiety to thrive

I help women entrepreneurs and designers who struggle with overwhelm and anxiety to rethink their response to stress and learn how to accept, embrace and utilise it to become more resilient, happier and more successful. Stress is inevitable but by changing your attitude to stress you can transform your challenges and difficulties into opportunities and possibilities. Utilising stress can be liberating and empowering by choosing to see stress as your friend, rather than seeing it as your enemy. By building your resilience you will be able to remain flexible in your responses to your thoughts, behaviours and emotions when under stress. Learning how to transform stress and make it work for you is exciting and liberating. As a result you will feel more empowered, confident and resilient and be able to: • rethink and change your attitude to stress • know what it means to be good at stress • embrace challenges with confidence and positivity • persist in the face of setbacks • use anxiety to help you rise to your challenges • see effort as the way to mastery and achievement • turn nerves into excitement • how to turn a threat into a challenge • turn adversity into a resource • turn self focus into bigger than self goals As an experienced coach, with over 20 years in the fashion industry at director level, I love helping and supporting women to explore and understand the real underlying causes of their stress that undermines their resilience. My aim is to bring clarity, motivation and purpose by helping them challenge their attitude to stress and move from a fixed mindset towards a growth mindset. To learn the skills to respond to their thoughts, feelings and behaviours in a positive, powerful and sustainable way. This enables them to strengthen their resilience and increase their self-esteem so they can more confidently deal with the challenges that life throws their way. Running a business, whether or not you employ people or not is often isolating and very challenging at times. You can easily become overwhelmed by the workload, constant change and the responsibility it involves. Stress and burnout can creep up on you. I understand what burnout is like that having personally experienced severe stress in my twenties. I have also experienced some major challenges and changes in my life, including redundancy, severe injury and divorce so I appreciate and value the importance and benefits of developing resilience and self-care. Women want to manage their lives better, both practically and emotionally and achieve their goals and aspirations. As an owner and manager of people it is important that you create an environment where you, your people and the business can flourish and thrive. This requires focusing on becoming resilient by developing a growth mindset and accepting and embracing stress rather than trying to avoid or reduce it. In addition to I speak on how to rethink and transform attitudes to stress to empower women and build their resilience. I also write articles on the subject.