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Surveys bear out what we all suspected: being the owner of a small business, or working for one, is stressful. You need to be aware of the danger signs and be prepared to rethink the way you work. Take the right steps and your work can once again be exciting and rewarding, but you might need a sympathetic ear, and some reorganisation of your life.

When work takes over your life

Stress can make you ill. It can also ruin your social life, reduce your efficiency and make you unhappy. As business-owners we all know that a bit of pressure is good. It’s an incentive to get things done better or more quickly, to improve our products or services, to motivate our staff or to achieve excellent customer service. But when pressure becomes stress its effects are negative, even dangerous.

A survey of 2,000 business-owners carried out in 2015 by insurance provider, Simply Business, found that nearly half of participants cancelled social plans at least once a week. Almost a quarter took less than 10 days’ annual leave. 25% said that they had fallen ill due to stress and overwork. The problem is by no means confined to the bosses. A more recent survey, carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in partnership with Simply Health and published in April this year polled 1,078 people professionals representing 3.2 million employees. It found that 37% of UK businesses had seen an increase in stress-related absence during 2018. Mental ill health and stress are now the main causes of long-term absence.

It’s lonely at the top

So, what makes small business so stressful? It’s often said that it’s lonely at the top. The average sole trader or practitioner could be responsible for the welfare of a dozen staff and the satisfaction of hundreds of customers but could well have no-one with whom to share his decisions, problems and anxieties. Modern business is complex and heavily regulated, requiring a wide range of skills. When you are finance director, production director, marketing director and chief compliance officer all rolled into one, long hours and an excessive workload are the norm.

Recognise the symptoms

According to the CIPD only 50% of managers are trained to recognise stress in the workplace. Employees suffer just like business owners. The survey by CIPD and Simply Health found that 83% of respondents had observed cases of ‘presenteeism’ (going to work when ill), and 63% had seen ‘leavism’ (using time off for holidays to work). The main causes of stress among employees were cited as: excessive workload (62%); management style (43%); and relationships at work (30%).

Symptoms to look out for both in yourself and your team members are those of anxiety and depression. A feeling of isolation is common, often accompanied by low self-esteem, lethargy and restlessness. Sometimes the afflicted individual loses interest in the things in which they used to take pleasure or is irritable with their loved ones. Physical symptoms may include lack of sleep, too much sleep, excessive alcohol consumption, loss of appetite or over-eating, and aches and pains.

Share with someone

There are many tried and tested ways to improve the situation. Some psychologists advise that the most important first step is to find someone to share your burden, someone who understands you and your business and is a good listener.

Work-life balance has become a cliché. It is nevertheless important. If you can confidently delegate some if your tasks to others (without increasing their stress) you might reduce your working hours, take a proper lunchbreak every day and return home at a sensible time, freeing up time for social activities and networking. Get more involved in community life as a way to use your skills out of the office and have a change of scene.

Change your lifestyle to maintain clear a boundary between work and home. Make time for physical activities. Why not go for a walk every day during your lunch break? To make sure that you do it make a regular arrangement to share your walk with a friend or colleague. To combat any sleep problems, experts advise that you avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evenings, and don’t use a computer or smart phone within an hour of retiring to bed.

Work smarter

Above all, perhaps, both for employers and employees, is the need to work more effectively. Consider whether your business’s processes are properly systemised and documented; having the most efficient, leanest method of producing your goods or providing your services can save many a sleepless night.

Effective time management is essential, and there are many self-help books and courses to help you change your habits. If you don’t have a to-do list you should perhaps consider start one. Don’t make it too complex or technical. A simple handwritten list takes away the fear of forgetting something, helps you prioritise your tasks and, above all, affords the pleasure of crossing things off when they are done. Review your regular tasks and see if it is worthwhile taking on more staff to do them or outsourcing them. Accounting and payroll functions are a good place to start, and Cloud accounting can enable your accountant to assist in real time.

There are many good resources available on the Mind website, but you might also consider giving me a call. If you are looking for that person with whom to share your anxieties, fears and hopes, someone who understands your business and is sympathetic, perhaps a regular discussion with your accountant is a good place to start.

For further information about this topic, please call Paul Newbold on 0191 567 8611 or e-mail

As one of the leading firms of accountants in the North East, with offices in Newcastle, Sunderland and Jarrow, we have the expertise to advise you on a wide range of tax related issues. If you would like to speak to one of our local experts, please call 0191 567 8611 or e-mail


About the Author

Paul Newbold Image

Paul Newbold

After qualifying with KPMG where he gained significant audit experience, Paul joined Torgersens in 1991 and became the firm’s audit partner in 2000.

To get in touch please e-mail

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