What Is Entrepreneurial Burnout, and How Can You Avoid It?
Entrepreneurs are a brave bunch. They’re the ones who let go of the railing of traditional, consistent employment to walk the tightrope of self-employment, with a host of doubts and extra pressures snapping at their heels. The payoff, of course, is attractive. Work where, when, and with who you want. See your ideas realised in the world. And, perhaps, build your legacy too.
But over time those uncertainties and pressures can add up, with the possibility of leading to the condition known as burnout. As well as having psychological impacts, burnout has also been has been linked to a range of different negative outcomes, such as illnesses and eventual business failure.This makes addressing burnout a high priority for the longevity of business ventures, and personal health. Here we take a look at what entrepreneurial burnout is and what we can do about it.
What Is Entrepreneurial Burnout?
Entrepreneurial burnout is a syndrome that can develop after being exposed the pressures associated with being an entrepreneur for an extended period of time. The outcomes are the same or similar to the burnout that you can experience while in traditional employment, but it is unique for being a result specifically from the pressures of being an entrepreneur, and so is experienced differently. It’s the feeling of being “used up”: becoming emotionally exhausted, losing a positive outlook on the work you’re doing (and instead feeling cynical), and feeling inefficient.
What Causes Entrepreneurial Burnout?
By definition, the entrepreneur’s role is often focused on creation; this means that, often, entrepreneurs are starting something from scratch, and have to develop the foundations and structure of the business themselves. This leads to whole range of work stressors that fall into three main areas:
- Role ambiguity; when the job doesn’t have a defined description, causing uncertainty about the requirements and limits of the what needs to be done
- Role overload; when the workload is particularly high, making it very difficult (or impossible) to meet all the expectations of what needs to be done
- Role conflict; when other people with a vested in the venture (like business partners, family, employees) make demands that conflict with each other or your own desired outcomes and needs
If these role stressors are constant and unrelenting, they can lead to burnout for the entrepreneur.
How Can You Avoid It?
On the surface, it makes sense that avoiding burnout is just about working less. However, in the same way that losing weight comes back to “eat less, move more”, as simple as it sounds, the reasons why people work to the point of burnout are quite complex. They stem from different personality dispositions as well as the driving motivations behind entering into an entrepreneurial role.
That means that- rather than trying to just address the symptoms (or ‘diet’, following our losing-weight example)- it’s more helpful in the long run to reassess why you decided to become an entrepreneur in the first place (as scary as that might be).
Let’s Take It Back To The Start
A major distinction between either developing or not developing entrepreneurial burnout has to do with the difference between something called harmonious and obsessive passion. Although we usually consider passion to be a good thing, and we might even think that the more passion we have for something, the more likely it is to ‘work’, the truth is that passion for the wrong reason can actually lead to significant psychological distress.
Where harmonious passion is when entrepreneurial identity stems from the desire to find self-satisfaction, fun, and enjoyment through the venture, obsessive passion results from the motivating factors of social status and financial reward. Those who have a harmonious passion for their work tend not to feel guilty or other negative emotions when they don’t work. On the other hand, those with an obsessive passion might feel guilty, as if they are inadequate, not working hard enough, or as if their work is never good enough.
Although both types like what they do, what their work means to their identity differs, and means the difference between their workload controlling them, or them being in control of their workload.
So what does this mean for the entrepreneur? Well, for one, it means that there isn’t a quick fix for the problem. If you’ve hit burnout, it would be a good idea to do an honest assessment of why you want (or wanted) to become and entrepreneur in the first place. If you think you might be motivated for reasons more associated with ‘obsessive’ passion, then being able to manage your time and doing some work on re-configuring how your work fits into your identity would be a good focus. It might be a good idea to go through this process with a therapist who can offer guidance.
Ok, But I’m Already Burnt out… What Should I Do Now?
Alright, so you’re feeling the effects of burnout. You might be feeling fatigued, developing a negative or cynical outlook on your work, and experiencing self-doubt. Further along in the timeline of burnout, you might be experiencing clinical levels of mental ill health, such as depression, and poor physical health.
At this point, it’s important to develop a short term strategy to help get your mental health and wellbeing back on track, as well as a strategy to help manage your work-life balance in the long run. Some things to consider are:
- Speaking with a coach or mental health professional
- Engaging with social support, such as making time to see friends and family regularly
- Taking part in other activities and hobbies that you enjoy
- Maintaining a healthy level of physical activity- 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week is recommended
- Reducing the number of hours that you expect yourself to work in the week
- Setting reasonable and realistic expectations for outcomes and timelines
- Delegating some tasks or mental load to others if possible
- It might be a good idea to take some time off from work to support recuperation
Becoming an entrepreneur is a very exciting decision, and presents a great opportunity for personal and professional growth and development. However, it comes with a plethora of stressors that aren’t as pronounced or unrelenting in traditional roles with steady income and less personal accountability. Entrepreneurial burnout often traces back to the core motivating factors behind the decision to start a business, so it’s a good idea to think about these before starting out. Overall, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important for any endeavour, and imperative for keeping us in a positive headspace and top performance condition.