'Always on’ culture driving SME leaders to the brink – says Advanced

Published Wednesday, July 25, 2018 9:48 AM by Alex Arundale, Group HR Director, Advanced

New research reveals impact of stress on behaviour, relationships and health

25th July 2018 - SMEs might be the UK’s economic backbone, but new research from British software and services company Advanced has revealed that SME leaders are close to reaching boiling point at work. One in five have admitted to feeling under pressure all the time, and 65 percent have said they either don’t switch off or really struggle to switch off. Almost half (48 percent) blamed lack of time as a key source of their work pressure.

The research1, which quizzed over 500 owners and senior decision makers in SMEs across the UK, also found that 30 percent would consider counselling support if they felt under pressure and 19 percent would seek medical help. Over half (53 percent) would take time out from their job. Two-thirds have stress busting rituals, with a third performing deep breathing exercises and 12 percent reciting positive affirmations. A tenth practice laughing and smiling.

“It’s encouraging to see that most leaders recognise when they are under pressure at work, with many getting professional help when they need it,” commented Alex Arundale, Group HR Director at Advanced. “But it also sends a clear message – business owner managers responsible for the UK’s economic backbone are being overworked and those that don’t take time out to refuel could face burnout.

“A level of pressure is normal and can in fact be good for us sometimes, but consistent high pressure isn’t sustainable and can hamper the running of a successful business. On a personal level, it can also lead to a work-life imbalance, negatively impacting relationships in the workplace and at home, as well as affecting both their physical and mental health.”

Nearly half (46 percent) admitted they get short tempered when under pressure, while 18 percent isolate themselves or become withdrawn. Other indicators of being under pressure for SME leaders include not being able to sleep (52 percent) and getting ill (30 percent).

The findings are a stark reminder that most SME leaders are on constant over-drive, grappling with the day-to-day pressures of running an organisation. And, with studies reminding us that stress is contagious, the risks of neglecting the work-life balance mustn’t be ignored.

Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the University of Manchester’s business school, said: “SME leaders are their own worst enemy. They don’t like delegating and they worry about their organisation, which can be damaging to both people and business. The digital era is making it worse too. Leaders take their smartphones with them all the time and don’t hesitate to work while on holiday or when with family at night. Switching off is critical and that means taking a proper break to recharge. Otherwise, these leaders will get ill – especially if they’re under pressure all the time as Advanced’s research suggests.”

Alex added: “The UK has in the past been slated for its long hours work culture and the risk of a ‘Burnout Britain’ is still true today as it was then. Ultimately, the owners and senior decision makers in our nation’s SMEs need to take time out to rethink the way they are doing things. Taking 60 minutes to do what they love or sorting the things they simply never got round to doing, will help people recharge and undoubtedly drive productivity and performance.”

Interestingly, when Advanced asked if they were given 60 minutes back a day, just 9 percent of SME leaders said they would spend it on work and growing their business. More than one in three (36 percent) would prefer to reconnect with family or friends, 34 percent would take some time to be more active, and 22 percent would invest in professional development.

Here are Cary’s top tips for SME leaders:

  • Learn to recognise the signs of stress in the workplace – are you struggling to sleep, for example, or are you lacking in concentration and having trouble making decisions?
  • Find quirky stress rituals – leaders cope with high pressure in different ways so find a technique that works for you (and stick to it). This could be meditation, exercise or even singing!
  • Take a digital detox – finish work on time and, on a regular basis, set aside time at home to turn off your mobile phone and laptop. Focus on the ‘now’ – not the past or the future.
  • Remember your well-being is important – it might not seem like it when under pressure, but there is much more to life than your business. Always put your health first.
  • Take good advice – don’t suffer alone when you’re under pressure. Delegate work and listen to the people that are close to you, from colleagues through to family.