Is working for yourself putting your health at risk? New research suggests small business owners are jeopardizing both their mental and physical health by working long hours and exposing themselves to stress. Almost three-quarters of the entrepreneurs surveyed by the accounting specialist FreeAgent said they thought their health had been put under strain at some point as a result of their business activities.
In all, some 73% of entrepreneurs believe their health has suffered since they launched their business: 38% said both their mental and physical health had suffered, 25% said it was their mental health that had been put at risk and 10% cited physical health problems.
There are a range of drivers of such issues, including the stress of taking responsibility for the business – and potentially the livelihoods of other people – the financial worries of running your own enterprise, and the fact that support employees routinely get from their employers is not available to entrepreneurs.
In addition, many entrepreneurs appear to be working long hours to make a go of their businesses. In FreeAgent’s research, 38% of entrepreneurs said they routinely worked more than 48 hours a week, while 7% said they usually worked for more than 64 hours.
Despite the difficulties, the research also shows that most people in self-employment believe the pressure has been worth it. Some 81% said they would recommend self-employment to other people – and 60% said they believed their mental health had improved overall since they launched their business.
Nevertheless, Ed Molyneux, the chief executive of Free Agent, said the findings were concerning, particularly given the boom in self-employment in the UK in recent years.
“While it’s certainly positive to see how many people would recommend self-employment as a career to others, it’s enlightening to see how stark the reality of working for yourself can be when you scratch under the surface,” Molyneux said. “For many self-employed people it means working very long hours, with the pressure of maintaining their ventures having a noticeable effect on their health.”
The research echoes the findings of other surveys, with warnings that entrepreneurs risk burn-out because of the time they devote to their businesses. A recent survey by the insurer Zurich, for example, found that small business owners routinely miss out on holidays and sacrifice family time because of their commitment to their businesses. Zurich said 14% of small business leaders were taking no annual leave at all, while a further 18% were taking less than 10 days
“The fact that that nearly three-quarters of respondents to our survey said that they’ve felt that their mental or physical health has been put under strain as a result of running their business is especially concerning,” Molyneux added. “This suggests that either there is not enough support available for these self-employed people, or they are unsure about where, or who, to seek help from when they need it.”
Small business advisers also warn entrepreneurs to take steps to protect the health of their staff, who may find it more difficult to take time out when working for start-ups and small businesses. In a recent survey of 13,000 workers conducted by the health insurer Bupa, 60% of employees at small and medium-sized enterprises who considered themselves stressed said they had anxious thoughts at work. Such employees often felt unable to speak out for fear of being seen to lack commitment, Bupa said.