Why it’s time for SME owners to give burnout the boot
(and how to do it)
Feb 2nd 2022 – Written By Stephanie Sheargold
Would it surprise you that more than half of SME owners have experienced burnout since the
start of the pandemic?
If you’re self-employed or run an SME, then perhaps not.
Running a business is fraught with pressure at the best of times. Add the issues brought on by
the pandemic and you’re dealing with an incredibly challenging situation. Staffing worries,
securing supplies and managing rising costs have added to the difficulty of running a business
over the past few years. Add in general pandemic anxiety, homeschooling and the pressure to
avoid covid and self-isolation, and it’s a wonder that more SME owners aren’t in the same
What is burnout?
Burnout is a relatively new term and was only officially recognised by the World Health
Organisation in 2019.
Mental Health UK refers to burnout as ‘a state of physical and mental exhaustion’ which occurs
when you experience long term stress or have worked in a physically or emotionally draining
role for a long time. Typical burnout symptoms include:
- Feeling tired or drained most of the time
- Feeling helpless, trapped or defeated
- Feeling detached or alone in the world
- Having a cynical or negative outlook
- Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
- Feeling overwhelmed.
How can you overcome burnout?
Because it can be difficult to recognise burnout, it may be difficult to get better. However,
ignoring burnout and its symptoms can make things worse; burnout does not go away on its
Taking time out to relax and unwind can be helpful but won’t fix the problem. The most important thing to do when dealing with burnout is to deal with the underlying causes.
Many business owners are overwhelmed with the enormity of running a business, and for that reason, getting the right support is essential in overcoming burnout.
How can small business owners prevent burnout?
Get external business support
Working with a coach or mentor can help SME owners examine what they’re doing from an
external perspective and change the beliefs and habits which may be leading to burnout. Having
a non-judgemental person on hand to share your concerns and ideas with helps reduce the
sense of isolation that many self-employed people contend with. A coach or mentor may be able
to help you:
- Identify where you might be able to outsource work
- Recognise beliefs and habits which have been sabotaging your efforts
- Cut through unnecessary tasks which don’t add value, helping you free up time
- Express your frustrations and worries in a safe space
- Find extra help if you need it such as CBT or EFT therapy.
Learning to let go of the things you don’t need to do will free up time to focus on value-driving
activities. Not only that, but it helps reduce the mental load which otherwise contributes towards
Use the Eisenhower box to identify what you can delegate from your work list and pass onto
Of course, not all SMEs have the capacity to delegate their work to other members of staff.
That’s where working with a virtual assistant comes in. By paying only for the hours they work,
you can reduce your to-do list without the cost and time it takes to bring a new member of staff
on board. Not only that, but using a highly qualified VA means you’ve got someone who doesn’t
need any hand-holding or extra support; simply onboard them, and you can delegate your to-do
list, knowing everything will be done perfectly and on time.
Proactively support wellbeing
Building a culture which takes a proactive approach to physical, mental and emotional wellbeing
means that when things do get a little rocky, there’s no doubt about what you should do.
This is as important for owners of SMEs and the self-employed as it is for their teams. Every team and person is different, but here are some ways that SME owners can take a more proactive
approach towards preventing burnout:
- Take mental health training and ask your team to do so too. There’s a wide variety of options
available. The #FSBwellbeing campaign is a great place to start.
- Invest in employee health care plans. Using a specialist provider will allow you to provide
inexpensive healthcare plans to help employees stay healthy and seek help where
- Make sure there are enough people to do the job. It sounds simple, but taking on the right
number of staff will protect health and improve productivity. If you’re not sure how to judge
what ‘enough people’ looks like, consider enlisting an HR consultant to help you work things
- Consider a ban on emails and messages between certain hours and encourage taking time
out of the day for a proper lunch break.
- Encourage everyone to take all holiday allowance and avoid working on days off. Needless
to say, SME owners should lead by example.
Burnout Resources List
It can be difficult to know where to begin when dealing with wellbeing issues such as burnout.
Here’s a list of resources to help you and your team:
Are you suffering from burnout? Use this burnout self-test to find out.
Is your team suffering from burnout? This employee burnout test will help you understand how
your team is faring.
Becoming a mental health first-aider or encouraging others to do so will help everyone.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training courses are the best way to do this.
Mind has a wide range of free-to-access resources to support mental and emotional wellbeing.