Entrepreneurs are often feverish workaholics. So what’s their secret to avoiding burnout?

AMSTERDAM — New research from the University of Amsterdam reports that despite entrepreneurs often working longer hours than salaried employees, they are at no greater risk of burnout. In fact, study authors say burnout risk is actually smaller, on average, among entrepreneurs thanks to the “to the positive psychological effects of entrepreneurial work”.

Considering how common burnout and excessive stress has become in the business world, researchers believe workers of all kinds may benefit from these findings. While there’s been plenty of prior research conducted focusing on burnout and workaholism, no study had analyzed entrepreneurs specifically.

The team at Amsterdam put together the first major study investigating a possible link between entrepreneurship and burnout. In all, 348 entrepreneurs were tracked, as well as 1,002 employees, for a period of up to six months. Data was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There seems to be a paradox of ‘positive workaholism, because entrepreneurs are so engaged in their work that they also show less daily work recovery after regular working hours. What makes them so protected from burnout? We therefore also looked at the main mechanisms associated with burnout and engagement with work,” says UvA professor of Entrepreneurship Martin Obschonka in a university release.

The approach taken by the research team fostered new insights into the psychological utility of working as an entrepreneur, they explain.

“The work of entrepreneurs actually appears to result in less daily work stressors – such as work pressure, time pressure and administrative tasks – compared to paid work,’ Prof. Obschonka comments. “In addition, entrepreneurship offers the entrepreneur a high degree of personal work autonomy. All this leads to a positive psychological return on the substantial investment that entrepreneurs make due to their great involvement in the work. As a result, their work not only gives them more energy and a more positive state of mind than salaried employees on average; they are also happier and more satisfied with their work. On average, entrepreneurship seems to make people happier.

Notably, entrepreneurs with a one-person business, meaning they aren’t responsible for any other employees, showed the lowest risk of burnout. However, if they ended up expanding their business and hiring employees, the likelihood of burnout went up. According to Prof. Obschonka, it is important for entrepreneurs to be aware of this, as well as the higher risk of burnout among their employees.

For those of us on a salaried income, study authors point out that a more entrepreneurial approach, such as intrapreneurship in large organizations, may prove beneficial and help lower burnout risk. This may be especially helpful for employees working a high-risk job that demands a strong commitment to the work.

“If we can maximize the psychological utility of working as an entrepreneur, it promises not only personal benefit in the entrepreneurial sector, but also, more broadly, to the development of healthy, motivated, and well-rewarded entrepreneurs running their businesses, collectively generating broader social and economic benefits,” Prof. Obschonka concludes.

The study is published in the Journal of Business Venturing. 

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John Anderer

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  1. I have worked outside of the house for over 40 years. During that time I have worked on projects and activities that truly excited me and other times where I could barely wait to get out of the office or back from the field.

    What I have found for me personally, is that where I feel, I have a level of independence and ability to make decisions that my management trust, and that I feel that I am capable to do based on the skills, knowledge and expertise I have – I enjoyed the work very much, and seldom felt“burnt out“.

    However, in situations where I felt, my manager was second-guessing me, or my contributions were not valued it was easy for me to dread going into the office, I found it difficult to concentrate, and I did tend to react more emotionally to issues that arose. The other factor I have often found contributing to burnout for me has been where the amount of work was insurmountable. No matter how much I did or how hard I worked there was more work coming in than I could accomplish. I felt bad that I was not able to deliver quality service to those who were not able to receive my attention and focus.

    Some of my most enjoyable roles me to work long hours, strenuous conditions. In my 40 years of work, I have never been afraid to work hard, and to step up to challenges; and as I’ve noted, these were often my most enjoyable experiences.

    In conclusion, I do not believe that it is the type of work, or even the skill level of the individual, but rather the perception that the work has meaning, your contributions are valued, and you are not overwhelmed with the quantity of work coming in.

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