Owning a business can be dangerous to your health – how ‘the three R’s’ may help

Being your own boss is linked with greater wear and tear on the body’s inflammatory, metabolic and cardiovascular systems – and the post-pandemic work mode of always “being on” isn’t helping, suggests New Zealand-led research on entrepreneurial wellbeing.

Led by Dr Amanda Williamson, a lecturer in innovation and strategy at Waikato University’s management school, the research suggests that while owning and managing a business can be “one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet”, it can also be dangerous to health.

“Running a business tends to involve long hours, great uncertainty and ever-expanding work,” said Williamson, lead author of the international study “Let’s focus on solutions to entrepreneurial ill-being: Recovery interventions to enhance entrepreneurial well-being”.

“In the post-pandemic world of lockdowns, a lot of jobs have moved out of the office to working remotely from home, which for many people has led to even longer working hours and more stress than ever before.

“This modern approach to work, which commonly involves people always ‘being on’ has devastating effects on the body and mind in the long run.

“Yet research shows that most of the harmful effects of intense and ever-expanding work can be significantly reduced through what we call ‘the three R’s – respite, reappraisal and regime’,” said Williamson, whose colleagues in the research were J. Jeffrey Gish, assistant professor of management, University of Central Florida, and Ute Stephan, professor of entrepreneurship, Kings Business School, Kings College, London.

Their research had been accepted for publication by a top journal in their field, the Financial Times top-50 ranked title Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, she said.

Williamson received her doctorate at the University of Sheffield in the UK. Her thesis explored “the dark side and the downside of entrepreneurship”.

By engaging with the “three R’s” business owners can effectively recharge from work and boost their own productivity and wellbeing,” she told the Herald.

“Respite involves interrupting work for both tangible and mental relief, such as spending time in nature, socialising with friends, listening to relaxing music, or meditation/mindfulness exercises.

“Reappraisal refers to changing your own perceptions of a stressful situation through cognitive behavioural therapy, stress regulation techniques, or keeping a gratitude diary of positive reflections.

“Regime includes adding structure to your daily routine through exercise routines, taking micro-breaks of 5-10 minutes between tasks and better sleep hygiene.”

The problem is, said Williamson, that recharging becomes most elusive for people when it’s most needed.

In particularly stressful times when demands are urgent it can be difficult to mentally and physically detach from work, she said.

“Yet if we disengage from work, particularly during stressful times, the benefits of doing so are not confined to health.

“Recharging, in addition to protecting long-term health, makes people more effective, creative and charismatic.

“In other words, it can provide a competitive edge in business.”

More autonomous and remote work might make it more challenging to recharge, but it gives greater freedom than ever before about when and how to work, Williamson said.

“The time is nigh to use this autonomy to intelligently craft work in a health-promoting manner.”

Williamson said she welcomed the opportunity to share the research paper with New Zealand entrepreneurs and business owners.

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