Stress without distress

Founding a business is demanding. Many entrepreneurs work long hours, well above the normal working week. This can take a toll on work-life balance, as well as affecting physical and mental health – and as a result, business performance can be impacted.

There’s a significantly higher incidence of mental health issues among entrepreneurs than amongst the general population and start-up founders also report working harder than most employees, feeling stressed and being unable to switch off. That’s understandable: the high risk of failure is ever-present and only one third of start-ups survive ten years.

To get a picture of the situation in Australia, the High Growth Ventures (HGV) division of KPMG Enterprise, which works exclusively advising and supporting the start-up community, surveyed 70 founders in April 2018. The results were not surprising. Founders reported pouring their hearts and souls into their businesses, working 60 hours plus each week, feelings of insecurity and anxiety as they struggled, particularly in the early stages of their business, with cashflow issues, attracting and retaining staff, warding off competition and establishing themselves as viable enterprises.

Entrepreneurs also talked about feelings of irritability and having a short fuse, agreed they frequently spent little time with family and friends and most confirmed that they had less than six hours sleep each night. More often than not they ate unhealthily and on the run and rarely factored exercise into their daily routine.

From our perspective at HGV, this state of affairs is unsustainable. Founders who burn the candle at both ends are heading for burn out. And if they aren’t in good shape that means their business is likely to flounder as well.

When we launched the High Growth Ventures Startup Academy earlier this year, our objective was to help founders build sustainable high performance businesses. The Academy gives practical, business-focused advice to entrepreneurs, and takes a holistic view. In other words, we view the founder to be as important as the business. Even more important, in fact, because without a healthy founder, there would be no business.

Entrepreneurs dream big and live on the fast lane. They’re driven and single-minded. That’s good, exciting, it’s why they launched their business in the first place. But they often think of themselves as invincible. And that’s disastrous. Because nobody is.

So our message to founders is simple: look after yourselves. Eat healthily. Take time out of your day to go for a walk, meditate, reflect on what really matters to you. Get enough sleep – preferably more than six hours per night, as that allows you to recharge and get ready to face your day. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t look after your workforce or those who are close to you. You need to allow yourself time to recover from the stresses of the day. Focus on the “why?” you are doings things, both professionally and personally. Open up, tell people how you’re feeling – there’s nothing wrong in showing your vulnerable side. On the contrary, a healthy founder makes for a sustainable business. And isn’t that what every entrepreneur really wants?

Amanda Price, Head of High Growth Ventures, KPMG Enterprise

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