Employee benefits and retirement plan solutions Trends and Insights 6 reasons business owners like you get overwhelmed (and what helps)

6 reasons business owners like you get overwhelmed (and what helps)

Here’s how to get back to what you love about owning and managing a business.

Business owner with three employees gathered together to talk
3 min read |

Is it any surprise business owners feel overwhelmed?

Not really. Economic cycles, growth challenges, recruitment and retention, administrative burdens: That’s just a short list of why 61% of employers, across the board and regardless of size, are more stressed than they were the year before.1

As a small business owner, “you become chief of IT, HR, compliance, and financials—you are the C suite,” says Kara Hoogensen, senior vice president of Benefits and Protection at Principal®.

Here are six reasons why business owners like you burn out, and how you help can fix it.

1. You’re doing too much.

The average business owner works—a lot. And the boundaries between work and home often get stretched (or broken) entirely.

“There’s a saying that’s something like, ‘Culture is how you feel about work on Sunday evening,’” says Amy Friedrich, president of Benefits and Protection at Principal. “I suspect this separation of the weekend from the start of the work week may have been forever lost or changed.”

Burnout fix: Rebuild those boundaries, one by one. Outsourcing even one thing can help. To start: Divide to-dos into categories such as social media marketing, bookkeeping, technology, sourcing, and human resources, and utilize a temporary or permanent solution to assist with one.

2. You haven’t delegated.

There’s a surprising benefit to delegating: Retaining employees. The opportunity for career growth is the second most cited reason employees resign for new jobs (pay is number one).2

Burnout fix: If you’re not sure which employees want to do more, just ask. Reskilling might be another solution. It can open doors for new types of work without hiring or firing, help team members take the next steps in their careers, and help retain trusted employees (and their institutional knowledge).

What is burnout?

According to the World Health Organization , it’s:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion,
  • increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

3. You haven’t set priorities.

You have hundreds of ideas for your business this year, next year, in five years, and beyond. Have you listed those thoughts, grouped them into themes, and prioritized them? If not, you’ll just keep churning—and stressing. “You can figure out action items against those ideas that are most important, which will help you set boundaries for the things that are less important,” Hoogensen says.

Burnout fix: Implement one item that addresses an internal stressor and one for an external stressor. After a set time, reevaluate; if something isn’t working, ask why not—and think about what would happen if you let it go and moved on to what’s next on the list.

4. You haven’t shared your struggles.

Fellow business owners are a great source of inspiration—and commiseration. “Create a community that helps you reset when you’re burned out,” Hoogensen says.

Burnout fix: Set up a cohort chat channel that, once a month, shares ideas on different topics for quick problem-solving and brainstorming.

5. You haven’t adapted.

Sometimes, changing market conditions demand a pivot.

Rachel Hunter focused on expanding retail sales after her Colorado-based floral design business, A Florae, plummeted in March 2020. It worked: Retail sales surged 114% that year, prompting her to open an expanded storefront in 2021. “You learn so much about yourself when you’re knocked down,” Hunter says.

Burnout fix: Consider what new realities you're willing to embrace and which ones you're not. For example, if you have difficulty filling positions, can you create a job-share, remote, or hybrid set up to help draw talent?

6. You’re not taking care of yourself.

Self-care isn’t something most business owners focus on—even in the best of times. “Running a small business is always a heavy lift for owners,” Friedrich says.

Burnout fix: Think about what you can do to benefit you and your employees—lunch brought in once a month, outings after a particularly big deadline, even a surprise day off (you as business owner included).

What's next?

You’re busy running your business today. Get help planning for tomorrow at principal.com/benefits.