Ownership Burnout Warning Signs

It’s only been eight weeks since the start of the New Year but it feels as if it has been an eternity.

Most owners I know work very hard. They rise early, are busy all day with meetings and calls, make many decisions throughout the day and leave work long after every one else has already arrived home.

Even after a long day, the brain of an owner can’t be turned off; they spend most evenings thinking about what didn’t get done, what else needs to get done and most importantly, how they will shoulder the burden of getting it all done with an already over-subscribed calendar.

Over a period of time, without some sort of reset, this leads to burnout.

If an owner is paying attention, it may be easy for him or her to head off staff burnout.

But can the owner feel, see or hear themselves as they approach the red line of being so stressed out, mentally and otherwise, that they are becoming a danger to themselves and the company they lead?

What I’ve witnessed is that the owner can essentially become out of control with their actions and words. Left unchecked, it may result in serious harm in the relationships with employees, vendors and clients.

Having observed many leaders at various ages and stages of life and business, I’ve identified some key triggers that should be viewed as warning signs.

The first is weight gain. My theory is that for many people, eating and drinking to excess is a crutch to deal with stress. Is that shirt collar a little tight? Are you letting your belt out or maybe need a new, larger one? Does the skirt no longer fit? Are you out-of-breath after a short walk of a flight of stairs?

People do tend to gain weight over the holidays, but it’s now March. Any pounds gained should have disappeared by now. If they haven’t and the total on the scale is larger than before Thanksgiving, the unwanted weight is probably a sign of unaddressed stress.

The second is anger in public. Most owners do a pretty good job of holding anger, disappointment and frustration inside, often bottling it up or perhaps letting loose with (or on) a few key individuals in the organization.

One owner I know, however, was so angry over something that a manager did not do he started yelling and threatening a small group of employees for no apparent reason.

It was later discovered that the employees were unaware a certain task was their responsibility. The owner, thinking they were simply not doing something they were supposed to have taken care of, took it out on them verbally.

It was only later that the owner discovered the manager had not yet told the employees of the new responsibility. But this owner, who apparently seems to be perpetually stressed out, never apologized or explained to his employees about why he had his temper tantrum.

The third is isolation. When the owner starts to separate from everyone else in the company, something is wrong. I see this happening in companies when the owner believes, incorrectly, that they cannot depend on the others who are on the payroll to help them.

This silence causes employees to become worried for their livelihood. Not hearing anything different, they believe the worst (“We are all going to be out of work!”).

It’s a fast downward spiral from there for reduced productivity, low morale, less loyalty, and voluntary employee separation (as in, they quit and work for the competition).

There is no single cure for addressing these warning signs. I recommend any owner who recognizes these symptoms to find a fellow business owner, or a group of owners, a professional business coach, a trusted advisor or a therapist to discuss the root causes.

Living in denial is dangerous. To stay in denial is stupid. It is commonly accepted that an attorney who decides to represent themselves in court is a fool. The owner who decides that they can “tough it out alone” is in the same class as the fool attorney.

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