By Dr. Alexandra Beauregard, assistant professor of employment relations and organisational behaviour at the London School of Economics and a specialist in work-life balance.
When we work for other people, we often think about how much easier life would be if we were our own boss. And a lot of the time, that’s true. But talk to any business owner and you’ll soon realise that running your own show is not a fast ticket to a good work-life balance; in fact, it can be the exact opposite. In a recent survey carried out by XLN Business Services, almost a third of small business owners admitted to missing a family celebration, birthday or anniversary because of work and 64% said they had worked on Christmas Day.
When you’re starting a company, you are either beholden to your investors, or you are starting with no capital and trying to earn enough to pay yourself (and your employees, if you have any). The net effect is that during the start-up phase, you have no time and no money. You are working as hard as you can, for nothing. There is no work-life balance.
Most new business owners know to expect this. What they don’t expect is that once the business is up and running, it can be extremely difficult to exit this start-up mode of operating. You’ve realised that you can accomplish a lot, at low cost, by working very, very hard and shaking that start-up mentality is one of the biggest challenges for business owners’ work-life balance. One way to address this is by doing a work-life balance audit every few months, and asking friends or family members to help assess you. If you ask, your loved ones will let you know how you’re performing outside of work. That can give you the impetus you need to begin shifting out of start-up mode and investing more in your personal life.
A sure-fire route to a better work-life balance is to train up a second-in-command. Yes, the buck will always stop with you, but the peace of mind provided by having a competent deputy can’t be overestimated. Having a business partner can also be a big help, and enable you to effectively be in two places at once, with one of you at the helm while the other attends to personal commitments. You will need to find a way to balance your individual styles, though. If one of you is an engaged workaholic and the other values having time and headspace away from work, resentment can start to take hold. Figure out what’s important to both of you and negotiate an agreement based on your personal values and what you want out of the business.
There will always be times when the business has to come first. To prepare for those times, it helps to have a contingency plan in place for your personal life. For those with care-giving responsibilities, check out your options for emergency care. Do you have a reliable babysitter, or family members who can be on standby?
Ultimately, as important as your business is, your personal life needs and deserves a similar level of care. Set boundaries around your top priorities (family events, social occasions, key leisure activities) and protect that time, just like you would a crucial meeting for work. If a personal commitment is booked in to your diary, you’re more likely to respect it and schedule work activities around it, instead of vice versa. Ultimately, remember why you became your own boss in the first place.