Burnout: More Than a Buzzword for Business Owners

business owner burnout

Burnout has been one of the biggest buzzwords in recent years. In fact, in 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO)  officially recognized burnout as an official syndrome due to  chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. 

As a professional advisor to business owners, it’s important to be able to acknowledge the signs of burnout in your clients, and more importantly, how to work with them to overcome those stressors and stay the course when it comes to planning for one the most important financial events of their lives: the exit of their business.

In this blog, we will: 

  • Define burnout as it relates to an Exit Planner’s business owner clients
  • Point out some common signs of burnout in business owners
  • Discuss tactics to overcoming burnout 
  • Emphasize the consequences of not addressing burnout 

Defining Business Owner Burnout 

The WHO characterizes professional burnout by three factors:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to the job; 
  • Reduced professional efficacy 

Looking at burnout through the lens of Exit Planning, burnout can be specifically problematic when working with owners who wear many hats. The mental and economic strain of running a business in a constantly changing and challenging marketplace continues to grow. 

A recent Forbes article cited statistics from a new national survey that reported 42% of small business owners have experienced burnout in the past month and 24% reported that they are currently experiencing burnout. The same article indicated that present-day burnout is likely building on top of the mental issues that were created for business owners amidst the Covid pandemic. 

As an Exit Planning Advisor, what can you do to ease the exhaustion felt by owners who have been bearing this impact for many years? Is it possible to keep them motivated enough to continue or begin an Exit Planning engagement? 

Signs of Burnout in a Business Owner

Among all the stress that comes with owning and running a business, burnout develops deeper from the perspective of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.  “While some symptoms of burnout can be apparent to those around you, many are internal, especially for driven entrepreneurs who pride themselves in their work.” (Friedman, 2022). 

In the conversations that you are having with business owners, you are in a unique position as the advisor to provide perspective to your clients. If you catch on that your clients are questioning their abilities, changing behaviors, or are totally resistant to planning or conversations about their exit, it may be time for them to take a step back and consider the signs and symptoms of burnout. 

Hubspot article discussing recovery from professional burnout lists the following signs to look out for: 

  • A sense of defeat
  • Avoidance of work 
  • Depersonalization 
  • Detachment 
  • Loss of motivation or satisfaction 
  • Feeling flat or numb
  • Feeling trapped or a loss of agency

When it comes to noticing these signs in an Exit Planning client, the consequences could be critical if it means that the owner would procrastinate or put off working on their Exit Plan. Since burnout is specifically caused by some or many job-related factors, there are a few encouraging ways to help your clients overcome these stressors. 

Overcoming Work-Related Stressors

  1. Delegate & Focus on Next-Level Management 

As businesses grow, they usually become more complex. Many business owners one day realize that they simply cannot do everything all by themselves, nor should they try to. One of the top tips that Exit Planning Advisors should try in order to address burnout is shifting the focus to delegating tasks and developing next-level managers. 

Next-level managers are those who have the skills and experience to take the business to the next level, and ultimately take over when the owner is ready to exit. By helping your clients recruit and implement management systems, it takes away some of their job-related stressors while also setting the business up for a successful future. 

When next-level managers are brought in as part of the Exit Planning Process, the business begins to rely less on the business owner and without this reliance, there are more opportunities for your client to exit their business on their terms. Even if your client has no intention of leaving any time soon, installing next-level management improves business value and gives them the freedom to focus on the most impactful business needs.

  1. Reassess Goals & Passions 

As a business evolves, your client’s goals, skills and passions will transform too. 

Regardless of the reasons or details, circumstances with the business can change. When the owner’s plans don’t change with reality, it can inevitably bring out burnout in your client, and lead to frustration for the advisor. It’s important to form habits of frequent evaluation and restructuring when it comes to matching goals with the strategies to get there. 

One of the biggest benefits to an owner working with an Exit Planning Advisor is that planning strategies are designed to shift as the owner’s goals change.  When an Exit Plan is designed to evolve with the owner, there is more potential to pivot and reignite the fire in your clients. 

  1. Promote recovery in healthy ways 

When it comes to overcoming burnout, much of it has to be decided and acted upon by the business owner themselves. However, Exit Planning Advisors are often faced with pushback and resistance from owners hesitant to move forward in Exit Planning. These same roadblocks can and will appear when owners are faced with burnout. 

Therefore, encouraging your owner clients to take part in positive recovery methods, even while still working, could help them in the long run. A few ideas to suggest to your owner clients could include: 

  • Spending time away or going on a vacation 
  • Dedicating certain days and times to go unplugged
  • Getting enough sleep 
  • Spending more time with friends and family 
  • Reconnecting with passions and spending time in nature 
  • Starting a group or club with other entrepreneurs  
  • Discussing and planning for the owner’s post-exit lifestyle 

Consequences of Burnout 

Burnout can be costly if not acknowledged or managed properly. For business owners, burnout can have consequences that resonate with a lack of planning for the business exit. 

That said, many of the consequences of burnout and poor management of the stressors referenced above can have an immense negative impact on the business in one or more of the following ways: 

  • Burnout leads to reactive problem-solving instead of proactive planningJust as we advise owners to begin planning their exit strategy years before they are ready to retire or transition, the same goes for burnout. It’s easier to make sound judgment and business decisions with a clear head free of stressors.  
  • When the business relies too heavily on the owner, the impact is detrimental.  Too much reliance increases the chance of the owner suffering from burnout with too much on their plate. Additionally, when the business cannot run without the owner, the transition to a successor becomes more difficult. 
  • Burnout may lead to impulsive Exit Planning decisions. As mentioned, the exit of one’s business is a significant financial event that requires much time and consideration. While Exit Plans are designed to evolve and shift when necessary, it is still important for the owner to be able to make careful choices such as selecting a business successor or evaluating business value. 

The Bottom Line 

One of the most difficult parts of addressing burnout is beginning the process before it hits. While it is possible to address burnout even in the midst of it – prevention and planning before getting too burnt out brings on a more favorable result. 

Fortunately, an inherent benefit of planning for a successful future is that these plans are designed to address many of the causes of burnout. From installing a next-level management team to ensuring the plans align with your client’s evolving goals, planning for a successful future with the help of an Advisor Team can help keep burnout at bay.

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