What strategies do SME leaders need to cope with our always on culture?

Published 18/07/2018 by Alex Arundale, Group HR Director, Advanced

While SMEs might be the UK’s economic backbone, there’s real concern over the pressure that business owners and senior decision makers in these organisations are under. With our always on culture, most are on constant over-drive, juggling the day-to-day pressures of running a successful organisation with the fall-out of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the uncertainty of Brexit.

As a company here at Advanced with 2,200 employees, we have a leadership team which – whilst leading the direction of the business and responsible for delivering our goals – also provides an incredibly valuable support network for each other. We have the opportunity to share problems, test out new ideas and together work out the best way forward. Sadly, it’s not always like this in smaller organisations. As we work with more and more SMEs here in the UK, we’re increasingly seeing the different challenges their leaders face that takes place within a different context – identifying that the everyday stresses and strains they face often lack those much-needed supportive peer groups.

And given the success of these organisations plays an important role in the prosperity of the UK, it remains to be seen exactly what the consequences of this situation will be. So intrigued were we that we’ve conducted a new survey to find out exactly how business leaders fare in this digital era and discover the impact that high pressure can have on the running of a successful business, looking as far as the potential impact this might have on relationships both in the workplace and at home. Is it time for a re-think about the way we work and how they are doing things – especially for the owners and senior decision makers in our nation’s SMEs? Is it down to the digital age in which we live, or is it simply a problem endemic with SME leaders?

It’s been seven years since Simon Swan, Founder & CEO of Manchester-based Hiring Hub, started his business and for the first three years he worked 80-plus hours a week. However, in recent years, he’s become more aware of the toll that running a company can take on you – the constant adrenaline manifested from never being “off” – and able to recognise when feeling close to burnout.

He told us:

“I went through a period when my first daughter was really young of not being present. I was there physically, but my head was in another place. I used to think: it’s okay, I’ll work really hard for five years and then over invest in those relationships… but soon realised that it’s never ‘just five years’ and that I needed to make changes to get more life balance.

“I now think of it like a phone’s battery; every now and again I need to recharge. As a result, I now take periods away from my laptop and phone, particularly when I’m at home with my family. I think we have a lot to learn from other countries whose productivity is far higher than the UK, yet they seem to enjoy better work/life balance.”

From early analysis of our research – which we will be launching shortly – we know pressure is a challenge – and wanted to share some steps leaders can take to achieve a better work-life balance. These are from Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the University of Manchester’s business school:

    • Learn to recognise stress Some of the many causes of work-related stress include long hours, heavy workload, job insecurity and conflicts, while symptoms include a drop in work performance, depression, anxiety and sleeping difficulties. It’s therefore important for SME leaders to recognise work-related stress as a significant health and safety issue and take steps to reduce it.
    • Find a stress reliever that works for you Leaders cope with high pressure in different ways so find a stress reliever that works for you (and stick to it). From a commitment to taking more time off to scheduling exercise and ‘time outs’ in your day, when you’re ‘on’ from the moment you wake to the moment you sleep it’s important to find things – reading, running, family time – that take you away from the pressure.
    • Take a digital detox The digital era is making it worse. Switching off is critical and that means taking a proper break to recharge. It’s important to try to finish work on time and, on a regular basis, set aside time at home to turn off your mobile phone and laptop.
    • Remember your well-being is important It might not seem like it when under pressure, but there is more to life than your business. Always put your health first. Listen to your body, it has ways of telling you when you’re tired, and recognise the signs that mean you need to take time out
    • Take advice – don’t suffer alone when you’re under pressure Many SME leaders are their own worst enemy as they don’t like delegating, which can be damaging to both people and business. Divide work obligations and lean on those closest to you.

With studies reminding us that stress is contagious, the risks of neglecting the work-life balance mustn’t be ignored. The bottom line? SME leaders must take responsibility and find a solution that works for them. Watch this space for the new findings from our research…….