Is ‘hustle culture’ killing entrepreneurs? Ask any self employed person how they’re doing and you will usually get a reply, “I’ve been so busy”. If you were to go into their workplace for a day and observe them, you would probably find that’s true. Everyone is busy.
How many of those projects and tasks, that entrepreneurs busy themselves with, really propel the business forward? We have a new breed of gurus telling new entrepreneurs that the secret to success is hustle. So it seems success can then be measured by the long hours you spend in the office. Lack of sleep, poor physical and mental health and social isolation can now be warn like badges of honour.
There’s only one problem with this approach. It’s bullshit. Do you think the only difference between you and the billionaire, Richard Branson, is that you worked 12 hours each day and he worked 13? Do you think if you sleep less, skip exercise, eat fast food and stay late at the office you’re going to be successful?
I know you probably think I’m talking about someone else. You’re an extremely capable person and you have got this covered. Well, if you’re driven and successful, I am talking to you. High achievers like to think they’re immune to burnout but in reality, they’re often the ones most at risk.
In fact, many of us look at Silicon Valley only see the unicorns (privately held companies valued at over $1 Billion). But working in technology start-ups is not all beer and skittles. First, unicorns are the exception to the rule. More companies will fail than those that succeed. Second, many workers in these large tech companies report they are suffering extremely high rates of job burnout.
In fact, ‘Blind’, is an anonymous social app for tech employees. They conducted a survey with 11,487 participants, who were asked, “Are you currently suffering job burnout?” 65% of respondents from Expedia were. 60.4% at Snapchat, 60.16% at Lyft, 59.53% at Amazon, 57.94% at Airbnb and 57.46% at Apple, just to name a few. Yep, that’s right. The beer and skittles are just to keep people at work longer.
Burnout is not just a problem in Silicon Valley. Researchers recently conducted a survey of 326 entrepreneurs (95.6% had fewer than 250 employees), who were members if Business Networking International (BNI). They wanted to find out what makes entrepreneurs burnout. 25% of those surveyed replied that they felt moderately burned out, 3% felt strongly burned out. So, over one quarter of entrepreneurs are burning out at some level. Those findings were published in Harvard Business Review.
If you’re an entrepreneur you need to ask yourself, “How long can my business keep running like it is? How long could my business survive without me?” They’re important questions. After all, what would happen to your business tomorrow if you suddenly had a heart attack? What would happen if your circumstances changed and you were required to take care of a sick family member? Who will carry on your important work tomorrow if you cannot?
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Looking after yourself is just good business. If you work alone, chances are you are the engine that drives your business. If you lead a team, good leadership needs to start with you. If you want your team to show up for work fresh, enthusiastic, focused, energetic and motivated -you need to lead the way.
Most entrepreneurs I know start a business because they have something uniquely valuable to offer. Do you? For an individual, I believe that’s where passion, ability and reward come together. I like to think of the point where they intersect as your ‘highest value contribution’. It’s the most valuable thing you can do with your time.
Daniel Priestley introduced me to the idea that every one of us has a unique backstory in his book, Key Person of Influence. We each have a unique set of skills and experiences. In other words, the thing that makes your business or your workplace so special is you… and “there’s no one you-er that you” (thanks YOUI).
So, what happens to your firm if you’re always busy, responding to incoming demands on your time? You might be failing to serve clients properly or provide the value you promised. If you’re not making deliberate decisions about how to invest your time, you might not be working on the right things. In short, you might not be making your ‘highest value contribution’.
Being busy can make you feel stressed, overwhelmed and put you at risk of burnout too. Welcome to the world of information overload, 24/7 contact, anxiety, technology induced attention deficit disorder and the drugs we can be subscribed to fix them all.
Carter (Psychology Today, 2013) listed the symptoms of physical and emotional burnout including chronic fatigue, insomnia, impaired concentration, physical symptoms, poor immune system, lost appetite, anxiety, depression and anger. If you are constantly ‘under the pump’ at work, you might already have some of these symptoms. It can happen slowly, over several years. It’s like a snowball, rolling down a hill, getting bigger as it goes.
Many of these symptoms are linked too. I know when I haven’t slept well, I eat poorly (to try and get some energy). I have a poor immune system when I get really fatigued. When I get really fatigued, I get in terrible moods. My wife can tell you!
Arianna Huffington wrote a brilliant book called The Sleep Revolution. I must admit, I wasn’t that excited by the title but the book was fascinating and I read it cover to cover. Huffington explores the science of sleep and details how it can enhance our mood, cognitive ability, immune system and energy levels. My key takeaway from this book was, if you want to make your best decisions, you need a good night’s sleep.
I know what you’re thinking. “I can handle this. I’m a capable person.” But intelligence doesn’t make you immune to sleep deprivation or even burnout. Nor does success. Trust me. There’s a long list of extremely successful rock stars, actors, entrepreneurs, professionals, tradies and more who experience burnout.
In my own roles, I have shown extreme signs of burning out. In a previous corporate role I wasn’t sleeping enough, not spending any time with my family or friends, had a poor diet and wasn’t exercising. In the end, the most telling sign was me becoming angry for no particular reason.
I have seen signs of burnout in others too. From mild cases of stress or anxiety, through to people quitting their work they do or even taking their own life, even when they were at the top of their game. Sometimes, something can happen that’s not so extreme, like someone quitting their job or business.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself a few questions, so we can put things in perspective:
Let’s not pretend you or your business are indestructible. In layman’s terms, if any of these things happened, your business or ‘side hustle’ would be up ship creek (yes, SHIP CREEK!). Unless of course, you have a great backup plan. And if you do, good for you -you can already afford to take a break.
I believe we need to start talking about ‘work life sustainability’ because too many people view ‘work life balance’ in the extreme. Many employers shy away from the concept of balance because it sounds too much like leisure. What if we see this for what it is? If we don’t address this as entrepreneurs we might be risking our health, our sanity, our most valuable employees, our most important work, our income and indeed all of the rewards that come from doing what we love. We can’t keep going like that.