My last article about combating burnout seemed to really resonate with readers, so I started thinking more about the problem. It’s a sad truth that many entrepreneurs seem to regard burnout as inevitable — almost as if it’s part of the job description. In my last column, six entrepreneurs provided some great advice on how to avoid burnout and offered techniques for overcoming it, but I was still left wondering what causes burnout in the first place.
For starters, instead of working a typical 9-to-5 day, being an entrepreneur means you’re always on the clock, and common sense suggests this exertion will eventually catch up with you. While a lack of downtime is clearly related to burnout, I’d argue that blaming long hours for your burnout is an oversimplification of the issue.
Burnout is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $300 billion annually, and entrepreneurs certainly contribute their fair share. Burnout impacts both an entrepreneur’s personal well-being and his or her business success.
Curt Cronin, CEO and co-founder of Ridgeline Partners, says the physical and emotional exhaustion he experiences from burnout in the business world is remarkably similar to the feeling he got after sustained combat operations during his military career. He observes, “When burnout creeps in, I unconsciously overfocus on easy wins to avoid larger, more stressful tasks and decisions. In the short term, this works; over time, the big tasks snowball and become overwhelming.”
Cronin attempts to stop burnout in its tracks by making a list of his top three “must-do items” each day and by focusing on his health. Slowing down seemed to be a common theme in the solutions to burnout that I heard from entrepreneurs for my last column.
Evidence suggests that entrepreneurs are susceptible to burnout for reasons ranging from their passion to the risks involved. Based on the common themes I’ve noticed, you can likely attribute your burnout to one (or more) of these four culprits.
1. You have the wrong kind of passion.
Passion is no doubt important in entrepreneurial ventures, but it’s not all positive. According to researchers from VU University Amsterdam, the University of Richmond, and North Carolina State University, entrepreneurs exhibit two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive. They found that entrepreneurs with harmonious passion were motivated because their jobs brought them a sense of satisfaction and were an important part of their personal identities.
On the other hand, entrepreneurs with obsessive passion were in it for the status, money, or other rewards their jobs brought. You can guess which group was more likely to experience burnout. When it comes to your driving motivations, you can fool the rest of the world, but you can’t fool yourself. If your passion only revolves around compensation, you’re an excellent candidate for burnout.
2. You’re bored with your work.
The negative effects of employee boredom are becoming so well-documented that the trend has a new name: boreout. This phenomenon is being treated as a psychological disorder that can itself lead to burnout, according to Philippe Rothlin and Peter Werder, authors of “Boreout! Overcoming Workplace Demotivation.” Not surprisingly, boredom at work is widespread.
A Udemy study found that 43 percent of workers report being bored, and of that group, a 51 percent majority say they are bored for more than half of their time at work. The symptoms of boredom include stress, fatigue, and irritation. This particular study focused on workers in general, but entrepreneurs should take note. If you’re feeling uninterested in a lot of your work-related tasks, you could be at risk of suffering from burnout. Fortunately, this boredom can be remedied by reconnecting with your sense of purpose.
3. You have trouble delegating.
Delegating can be difficult for entrepreneurs, especially considering they might have been performing every task when they started their journey. As your business gets off the ground, however, it becomes more and more important to delegate certain day-to-day tasks to someone else. Not only does delegating take pressure off of you as a founder, it also improves business outcomes in surprising ways.
According to a Gallup study, CEOs who were talented delegators posted three-year growth rates that were 112 percent higher than those with a limited talent for delegation. Revenue levels mimic this result, with talented delegators generating 33 percent greater revenue than their peers. Even though you had to do everything in the beginning, as your business grows and brings on new team members, you need to take tasks off of your plate.
4. You try to power through life’s rough patches.
Everyone goes through hard times at some point, and in an emotionally difficult situation, you can’t expect your best effort to look the same as it does under normal conditions. If you try to ignore the emotional strain, burnout is likely to follow. According to research, negative or stressful life events can decrease productivity by as much as 12 percent.
Licensed psychologist and small business owner Dr. Dori Gatter tried to push through her own burnout but acknowledges that things at work continued to fall through the cracks: “I thought I just had to keep working harder for things to get better and then I could relax. Isn’t that the story we all tell ourselves? That is a lie.” Recognize that your personal life will impact your productivity at work and that simply working harder isn’t the solution.
If you want to avoid burnout, be honest with yourself. If you’re rewards-obsessed, bored, trying to do it all, or refusing to slow down when life sends you speed bumps, you’re greatly increasing the chances you’ll experience burnout. Because burnout can have mental and physical consequences that are difficult to shake, it’s best to recognize the warning signs and make the needed changes. In the end, it will benefit you and your business in ways that are difficult to quantify but vitally important.
Originally published on Forbes.com on 08/28/18