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SMEs heading for burnout pandemic

Xero SA country manager, COLIN TIMMIS, in conversation with Marc Rogatschnig, provides advice for business owners on their wellbeing

“I think we’re heading into a burnout pandemic,” Marc Rogatschnig told me as part of our online interview during Xero on Air in September. Months of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Marc argues, are beginning to take their toll in the form of burnout.

A clinical and consulting psychologist, Marc is the founder of Tidal, a community of people-development specialists. He joined me as part of Xero on Air to talk about the importance of protecting our wellbeing and what we can do to care for ourselves and support teams.

As Saturday is World Mental Health Day, we wanted to take the opportunity to revisit what he had to say.

Covid-19 has unsettled all of us

None of us could have predicted how long the impact of Covid-19 would last. It has devastated many businesses and communities. Many of us thought things would get back to normality sooner than they have. However, as the months have gone on, people have been pushing hard at work as they worry about job security and business survival. 

According to Marc, this leaves us all feeling hypervigilant, looking out for new threats, and not able to rest properly. After too long in this state, we become exhausted and start to experience burnout.

Our pre-pandemic research found that 79% of South African small business owners have experienced stress due to work. The pandemic will have undoubtedly increased that number.

Small businesses and mental health

Small business owners, in particular, tend to be driven people, pushing themselves and those around them to achieve their best. However, these same traits make it unfortunately common for stress and overwork to creep in.

Marc stated that “the topic of wellbeing starts to stray into emotions, and it gets messy, but the best understanding is that your emotional state directly influences the quality of your thinking. How we feel in a moment has a direct impact on our thinking.”

Marc added that the “pressures from home-schooling, work, and the blurring of lines between home and work” are a “direct threat to people’s energy” and their “quality of thinking.” This crisis is especially challenging for small businesses, where the decision-making falls on a few individuals. It is also a threat to your wellbeing and those of others, including employees, family and friends – you can’t look after others without filling up your own cup.

What can we do about it?

There are a few steps we can all take to help protect mental health. Marc suggests the following as a starting point:

  1. Tune into your body: first, Marc says we should acknowledge that this is a strange time and will affect everyone differently. Be in tune with your body and understand how stress affects you and what you can do about it.
  2. Unplug from negative news: many people are aware of the things they put into their bodies and how it will affect them, but fewer consider the things we put into our minds. According to Marc, when we’re experiencing a protracted period of stress, we’re constantly on the look-out for additional threats. Marc advocates for a week of media, news, and social media detox to help reset.
  3. Carve out time for yourself: Ideally, Marc suggests scheduling 30 minutes of your day to focus on exercise, meditation, or another form of relaxation. That almost certainly means taking time away from something else, but even 15 minutes a day makes a real difference.
  4. Take time to reflect: Marc advises trying out reflective meditation and creating distance between yourself and chaos in the world. He suggested breaking the habit of picking up your phone first thing – something we can all be guilty of at times. Instead, begin each day by asking two questions of yourself: “What did I learn yesterday that will help me today?,” and “what do I want to do better today than I did yesterday?”

Take care of yourself – your business can’t succeed without you

No business can succeed in the long term if the people guiding it are suffering, and no amount of business success will improve your wellbeing. This World Mental Health Day, and the rest of the year, be sure to invest the time in taking care of yourself and your employees – your business will be better off for it.

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