Working for yourself may be a liberating and empowering experience, but it can also be challenging and stressful, and new research indicates a need to establish much better personal support networks for entrepreneurs and other small business owners.
The study, led by UniSA’s School of Management senior lecturer Dr Shruti Sardeshmukh, acknowledges that while organisations increasingly implement HR policies and practices to support employee wellbeing, there is scant attention paid to the stresses of business ownership and the toll they take on the individual.
“There is an idea that just because entrepreneurs are passionate about what they are doing, and because they are often autonomous and independent, issues like stress and emotional exhaustion don’t apply to them,” Dr Sardeshmukh says.
“But our research suggests business ownership can place a heavy burden on your personal life, particularly in respect to balancing work and family roles.”
Dr Sardeshmukh suggests there is currently too much attention on helping entrepreneurs start businesses – through things like seed funding and innovation programs – and not enough support in the next phase, where the challenges of keeping a business running take on a different dimension.
“We’re in the situation now where we need to create awareness about this issue and get the business owners themselves to realise how important it is for them to ensure these stressors don’t take too heavy a toll,” Dr Sardeshmukh says.
The research identified three key stressors for business owners’– the long hours they often devote to their business, the work-family conflict, and the ambiguity that comes when you are your own boss.
“One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is in actually defining their role within the organisation, especially when that organisation is involved in innovative activities,” Dr Sardeshmukh says.
“There is often a focus on being flexible in such a working environment, but in fact there is a real need to establish frameworks and guidelines which provide the individual a clearly defined role and also allow them to step back from that role, like any other employee, and have a life outside the business.”
The research combined data from two studies, one in the US and one in Australia, to examine the effect of role stressors on emotional exhaustion and subsequent exit intentions among business owners.
“With more and more people considering the entrepreneurial pathway, we want to help understand better ways for business owners to cope with these stressors so they are not driven to exit the organisations they have worked so hard to create,” Dr Sardeshmukh says.