Addicted to the job. Can a business owner ever switch off?

Entrepreneurs frequently suffer from what seems like work addiction, leaving little time for anything else. But is it possible for business owners to have a good work-life balance without sacrificing the success of their companies?

By Matt Ayres on 16/07/2019

Addicted to work – can a business owner ever switch off? | iwoca

Starting a business can be a way to break free from the confines of employment and enjoy a more balanced lifestyle. In a recent study published by FreeAgent, an accounting software provider, work-life balance was a key motivator for self-employment – of 1,000 participants surveyed, 46% claimed it was their main reason for wanting to go it alone.

Yet running a business can be far more time-intensive than a typical nine-to-five, with some business owners allowing their jobs to take over their lives. When Luke Hughes launched OriGym, a qualifications business for personal trainers, his routine quickly became dominated by work. Hughes' life commitments began to be eclipsed by his business responsibilities, leading him to regularly work 110 hour weeks.

“I thought that to start a proper business, all attention and focus should be on that,” says Hughes, who confesses he’d clock in to work on Christmas Day. “This mindset left no room or time for anything else, resulting in not seeing friends or family and dropping passions such as poker and football.”

The dangers of overworking

Unwavering dedication to your business may be seen as an admirable trait, but it can also lead to neglecting other aspects of your life.

“Constant overworking may cause you to take your eye off things that are important to you,” says Richard Holmes, director of wellbeing at insurance provider Westfield Health. “If you’re heading up a company, you may feel the need to be constantly on-hand or too scared to book annual leave through the fear of missing out on work.”

Managing employees, taking care of clients and being responsible for the enterprise’s success are clearly crucial tasks. But as Holmes points out, overwork can have a negative effect on your wellbeing, as well as your business.

“Not only does fatigue impact on performance, it will impact on your physical and mental health which may result in having to take sick leave,” he says. “No matter what your position, it’s important to maintain a good work-life balance to ensure you stay happy and healthy.”

This advice shouldn't be restricted to business owners. A study published by the University of Bergen found that of 12,135 employees surveyed, 7.8% could be accurately described as addicted to their work. So-called ‘workaholism’ can be attributed to a number of factors, from flexible or unclear working hours to the always-on nature of email and smartphone notifications.

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Finding a better balance

On realising the severity of his work addiction, Hughes took steps to address the problem. By delegating tasks to employees, limiting email use and scheduling time for activities outside work, he’s managed to reduce the number of hours he spends on the job without negatively impacting his business.

“My work-life balance still has room for improvement,” he says. “But I feel satisfied in contrast to when I first started the business. I still love going to work, but now I also love leaving it too.”

Delegating is one of the best ways for business owners to free up time, according to entrepreneur and success coach Ryan Jackson, who suggests calculating the monetary value of the time you spend working on certain tasks. You can then use this figure to determine whether it would make more financial sense to delegate some routine jobs to someone else.

“This can help you to gain perspective on the tasks you should – or shouldn’t – be focusing on,” says Jackson. “For example, are you paying yourself £50 per hour to read irrelevant emails or do filing? Being aware of your hourly cost to the business helps you to determine which tasks you should dedicate your valuable time to, and which tasks to delegate.”

How to delegate effectively

Having trust in your team can help to alleviate anxieties around delegation. Surinder Kalsi, managing director of digital agency Cefar, admits to being addicted to her work, but delegates work to her team to lessen the burden on herself. As someone who regularly travels for work, she makes the most of her entrepreneurial lifestyle by mixing business with pleasure, and can relax in the knowledge that her colleagues in the UK are taking care of day to day operations.

“The laid back culture of the company I run gives me the freedom to go wherever, whenever,” says Surinder. “I can run the office from my phone, and I’m lucky to have an extremely reliable and trustworthy team.”

Of course, it’s important to remember that delegation isn’t an excuse to dump an unrealistic workload on your employees. Mark Rhodes, a recruitment specialist at employment firm Reed, says a better approach is to foster a shared sense of responsibility in your company, while making it clear you understand the importance of balancing hard work with down time.

“By ensuring you delegate effectively, you'll be sharing responsibility with members of your team, empowering them in the process and freeing up some of your own precious time,” he says. “It may even help you to switch off.”