It’s a balancing act: improving your work-life blend as a small business leader

By Stacey Sterbenz, below, General Manager, Global Commercial Services UK at American Express

Small, independent businesses are crucial to Britain’s economy. But the tough trading environment has raised a plethora of challenges for some of the nation’s most-loved organisations. In fact, new research from American Express reveals 43% of small businesses expect rising costs of goods, services and energy to be the biggest challenge over the next six months followed by labour costs (27%), recruitment (27%) and business rates and taxes (26%)1.

Small business leaders will no doubt take practical steps to protect their operation against rising costs and ensure the continued success of their business. But this process is hard work and all-consuming, leaving little room for downtime. Our research shows most (88%) small business leaders say work regularly interrupts their personal life with more than a quarter (27%) stating these interruptions happen every day 2. It’s no wonder nearly half (49%) of small business leaders feel burnt out.

As we continue through this challenging period, a good work-life balance is more important than ever. Leaders naturally want to be reachable when business calls, but also have a desire to spend time doing the things they love away from the day-to-day. It’s a difficult balance to strike.

Take time out to become a better leader

In the aftermath of the pandemic, leaders have reflected on both their personal and professional lives. According to our research, seven in 10 (71%) say the pandemic has altered the way they think about their professional and personal lives.

They are aware of the need to take a break and are keen to do so. They understand the positive effects, with 86% saying regular time off work is important for their overall wellbeing – resulting in them being able to run their business better. Our research details the benefits a healthy work-life balance will bring; almost half (48%) acknowledge it will boost their mental health; 35% expect to have an improved mood; and 30% believe they will enjoy stronger relationships with colleagues. In their professional life, they foresee greater energy and motivation, improved productivity and creativity, and a better sense of what’s important for their business – qualities that will boost any small organisation.

How do business leaders want to relax?

While balance brings positivity both from a personal and a professional perspective, how small business leaders choose to spend their downtime varies from one to the next. Nearly six in ten (58%) say a ‘physical’ break – meaning proper rest and relaxation – is what they need to feel they have fully enjoyed some time out. Almost a third (30%) need an ‘emotional’ break from the requirement of meeting the needs of others, including customers and employees. A quarter (25%) want a ‘sensory’ break or digital detox, away from their phones, laptops and other devices – sure to be a luxury for those leaders who are always connected.

When it comes to enjoying their downtime, 40% said travel and experiencing new destinations and cultures are most important to them when it came to achieving balance, with a fifth (20%) focused on pampering and indulgence in activities such as spa trips and about one in eight (13%) interested in learning a new skill such as a foreign language or musical instrument.

What’s clear is that there’s no one size fits all approach. The notion of work-life balance differs from one person to the next and what they deem valuable to them. Any business leader should prioritise rest and relaxation at a time that suits both them and their business. Personally, I make sure I log-off early on Friday afternoons and head to the gym – it helps me reflect on the week and unwind for the weekend.

At American Express, we are committed to backing business leaders at work and beyond. We offer rewards that allow them to do more of the things they love. With the rising cost of doing business meaning additional day-to-day pressures, leaders may be hesitant to take a break. But those who do strike the right balance will be better placed to strengthen relationships with their customers and other stakeholders, tackle challenges with more energy and creativity, and ultimately run better businesses.

[1] American Express and Opinium surveyed 1,008 SME senior decision makers, including more than 200 at small businesses of 10-49 employees in the UK. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th May – 6th June 2022.

[2] American Express and Opinium surveyed 500 senior business decision makers in companies of 0-49 employees in the UK. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12-19 April 2022.