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Robert Glazer was regularly working 16-hour days last spring, leading his 200-person marketing agency through the early months of the pandemic, when his teenage daughter asked, "How are you doing?" The question nearly brought him to tears.
"No one had asked me that," said Glazer, the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners. "At the time, all I had done was focus on other people."
More than a year into the pandemic, small-business owners are still struggling. More than 163,735 businesses have closed, and the founders who are still running their companies are grappling with burnout. Before the pandemic, daily worry for small-business owners was at 35% for men and 33% for women, a May report from Gallup said. In 2020, those figures rose to 47% and 60%, respectively.
Two psychologists who work with business owners told Insider their clients are experiencing stress, trauma, and crisis fatigue from events in the last year, including the pandemic, social unrest, and mass tragedies. This is on top of the typical worries that come with running a business such as keeping staff employed, financing, and scaling.
"They're living in a state of chronic stress for a prolonged period of time, where there's little predictability and all your expectations are violated," said Dr. Adrienne Heinz, a licensed psychologist who also works as a research scientist at Stanford University. "It's a lot of despair and beyond anything that I've seen clinically."
One of the best ways small-business owners can treat the burnout they're feeling now is by taking a break from work, said Heinz. But as many know, that's easier said that done, especially if you're working alone or with a small team. Entrepreneurs can also take steps to prevent themselves from reaching a critical point at which their mental and physical health is suffering, she added.
Taking time off can be hard, but it's a must
Glazer spent the past 13 months focused on managing his employee's stress and well-being, in addition to running his company, which booked $22 million in revenue last year, documents verified by Insider showed. He didn't take an uninterrupted break until December, and even then, it didn't feel like enough time, Glazer said.
"You can run on adrenaline for a while, and then when you stop, it all starts hitting you," said Glazer, who's releasing a book this summer on remote working. "I had to start getting in a better habit in terms of morning routines, vacations, and exercise."
Small-business owners who haven't taken time off in the last year should prioritize doing so, said Dr. Taisha Caldwell-Harvey, founder of the Black Girl Doctor, which focuses on the mental health of female Black professionals. While she noted that stepping away from your business for a week is difficult — she often feels guilty for taking time away from her patients — you must if you're feeling overwhelmed, if your motivation is lagging, and you're showing physical signs of distress.
"If I don't protect myself, then I won't be able to be an effective leader," Caldwell-Harvey said. "I need to take care of myself."
Model good behavior so your employees follow your lead
By June of last year, Glazer was encouraging his employees to take a day or two off each month. But not many people were taking his advice. He found that few employees were willing to ask for a break if he wasn't leading by example, so he started announcing when he was taking a day off.
Modeling taking time off shows employees they can do it too, which is vital for keeping your staff engaged and productive, Caldwell-Harvey said.
"If you're modeling it, you're setting the cultural tone for how we handle our health, which is not just physical but mental," Heinz said.
Delegate and set boundaries with your team so you can remove yourself from some tasks and decisions
Many entrepreneurs are keen to maintain control of the entire business, but it's important to delegate tasks so you can take a break, Glazer said. Learning how to do that is a core tactic to battling burnout, he added.
He started by removing himself from alerts that would ping his cell phone. If you're getting messages from the bank, punt them to your chief financial officer instead, he suggested.
"If everything runs through you, then you're going to get bothered when you're on vacation," Glazer said.
It's also important to prep your team on how to handle issues that may arise while they're away. Establish when someone should reach out to you and how they should contact you, Glazer said.
For example, should your team tell you about a mistake they made at 10:30 p.m., or wait until the morning? Another example is if the business' bank account was set to run out of money by the morning, Glazer said.
"Set up those boundaries with your team in advance about what really is an emergency and what the expectations are," he said.
Build a self-care routine so you can fight future burnout
For small-business owners who are unsure of how to prevent future burnout, Heinz suggests establishing a self-care routine that will refresh and recharge them. This can look different for every person, but should incorporate increased access to nature or sunlight, time away from devices, the right amount of sleep, and connecting with people who restore instead of deplete you.
People are prone to letting parts of their self-care routines fall to the wayside during a crisis, which can lead to burnout or other physical ailments, Heinz said.
"These self-care routines gradually escape us when we're in a crisis," Heinz said. "But it's like the frog in boiling water story — you don't realize how far you've deviated from your self-care routine until you're boiling."