Business Owners Work Twice as Much as Employees, Survey Finds
If it feels like your workday never ends, you can at least take comfort in knowing you're not alone.
The majority of small-business owners say they work at least 50 hours per week, according to a recent poll -- far more than the national average of 33.8 hours per week reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Thirty-three percent of small-business owners reported working more than 50 hours per week, while an additional 25% said they work more than 60 hours a week, according to a poll of readers of the New York Enterprise Report. The poll, conducted throughout January and February, found that 70% of respondents also worked at least one weekend on a regular basis.
"Often, people go into business for freedom," said Robert Levin, the report's publisher. "The ironic thing is that you lose some of that freedom when you go into business for yourself, because you have to work so many more hours."
And that loss of freedom, according to experts, can take a toll. "For most people, working that many hours puts stress on their other relationships and the other things they need to be doing," said Rhonda F. Waters, a Ph.D. in organizational development and president of the Boston-based Mutare Group, a consulting firm that specializes in organizational assessment and executive coaching.
The poll is part of a recent string of findings suggesting that being overworked and feeling overwhelmed are pervasive in the American workplace. In 2005, the Family and Work Institute released a study that found 33% of workers feel chronically overworked and 54% felt overwhelmed by how much they had to do, at some point in the last month.
Although that study focused on employees, its findings also suggested possible bad news for business owners -- showing managers and professionals with greater responsibility were more likely to feel overworked than lower-level workers.
And those who focus on primarily on work and put in long hours hoping to accomplish everything on their to-do lists end up feeling more overworked than those who try to do it while balancing the priorities of work and family, according to the Family and Work Institute.
"The small-business owners who are happiest begin with an end in mind," Waters said. That end, she added, might be a house in Florida or money for their children's education, but having it in focus ensures that the day-to-day challenges of an unhappy customer or a malfunctioning printer doesn't get blown out of proportion.
According to participants in the New York Enterprise Report poll, the number-one factor that would allow them work less is hiring additional employees.
"Unlike a larger business that may budget ahead for people when things pick up, with a small business, it is very difficult to do that." Levin said, "It is almost a circular thing. You don't have the time to look for someone."
While small businesses often hold off on hiring, "that isn't always what is really going on," said Amy Richman, a senior consultant for WFD, a workplace consulting firm based in Newton, Mass.
Richman said that workload issues come up with large and small businesses, because people are often bogged down. "We've quantified [that] people spend 20% of their time on what would be considered low-value work."
Effective time assessments might free up a day, a week, or more, by cutting out work that is really unnecessary, Richman added.
Waters suggested that small-business owners who want more free time should focus on fulfilling the needs of the core clients who bring in the most money, and delegate everything that they don't have to be doing themselves.
But even applying a variety of strategies, the numbers still show "small-business owners work the most hours," Richman said. Given the pace of running a small business in a 24/7 work environment, resilience more than working fewer hours may be the key.
In that, entrepreneurs may have an advantage over their corporate counterparts, according to Richman. People who have control and flexibility will be healthier, happier, and better able to handle stress effectively, she said.
While grinding out the hours and dreaming of that Florida house, entrepreneurs can take comfort in the fact that running their own business may pay off in the long run. "Finding meaning in what you do is one of the most important dimensions of resilience," Richman said. "People who own their own businesses, more than others, are able to find meaning in what they do."