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Data & Insights 3 min read

What impacts small business owner wellbeing?

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Rachael Powell

Apr 26, 2023

The driving force for many small business owners when choosing to start their own businesses is to improve their lifestyle, but how does small business owner wellbeing actually fare?

That’s what we set out to find out in our new report released today: The global state of small business owner wellbeing

Wellbeing gets a lot of attention, with no shortage of articles and reports telling us how we should be better balancing our lives. Specialists in this area have also improved how to measure wellbeing. For example, the annual World Happiness Report uses a consistent methodology across 137 countries to rank the “happiness” of people – from Finland to Afghanistan. Most of these measures, however, are focused on overall populations and trying to get a sense of how happy everyone is. 

While there has been a lot of research into overall wellbeing and happiness, there hasn’t been a lot of work done to measure the wellbeing of small business owners. 

To fill this gap, Xero commissioned research across seven countries – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States – collecting the experiences of more than 4600 small business owners.

The resulting report, The global state of small business owner wellbeing, highlights the challenges small business owners are facing.

Small business owners have a lower life satisfaction than the general population

In five of the seven countries we studied, small business owners had a lower life satisfaction than the general population. The two exceptions were Singapore and South Africa; these two countries ranked in the top two in Xero’s small business owner focused study. In contrast, both these countries rank outside the top 20 in the rankings of happiness in the overall population, as measured by the Gallup World Poll. 

The wellbeing challenges facing small business owners can be grouped into five themes:

  • Macroeconomic and business-related financial distress: The state of the national and global economy tends to impact small business owner wellbeing, as does the frequency of financial distress faced by small businesses.
  • Stress management and mindset: Cheerful, calm, and active mindsets tend to contribute significantly to small business owners’ wellbeing, while stresses to personal life caused by business issues seem to affect overall life satisfaction to an extent.
  • Prioritising recovery: When small business owners feel rested and free to take time off when needed, their broader wellbeing generally benefits.
  • Fulfilling work: While most small business owners derive some level of fulfilment from their work, those who find their daily activities interesting or mentally stimulating may be more likely to experience better overall wellbeing.
  • Accessing support: Affordable counselling and support remain relatively inaccessible to small business owners – which could amplify risks to wellbeing during times of macroeconomic adversity and personal crisis.

What can be done to support small business owner wellbeing?

Based on the survey findings, we have made some recommendations for small business owners, advisors, governments and industry bodies which are outlined in the report:

  1. Invest in policies that encourage small business innovation and learning. We observed significant links between small business owners finding their daily activities interesting and their overall wellbeing – arguably more so than any other theme that we looked at. There also appears to be a link between a sense of fulfilment with work and higher levels of wellbeing. This suggests policies that support learning, upskilling, and innovation amongst small business owners, such as digitalisation, could help improve their overall wellbeing.
  2. Tackle the root causes of employees’ mental health issues. Employees’ mental health issues emerged as a consistent stressor for small business owners. It’s clear that when employees suffer, their employers do too. Policies that help employers address the root causes of employee stress will likely also bring long-term benefit to small business owners’ wellbeing – particularly those under 30 years old.
  3. Counselling for small businesses or networks for peer support. Countries with less access to wellbeing support tended to also suffer on other metrics on wellbeing. We recommend increased investment and/or policy support for counselling services that address the unique positions and pressures of small business ownership, especially since doing so will likely result in flow-on benefits for employees. 
  4. Explore ways to achieve greater restedness. Our survey found that even if small business owners said that they could easily take a break, that didn’t automatically translate into higher levels of feeling rested. Small business owners would do well to cultivate a mindset of rest where they intentionally put business affairs aside, rather than seeking it solely through time off or other external changes. 

What next for small business owners

This report highlights that while small business ownership can be incredibly rewarding, it can also serve up more challenges than the general population may face.

If you’re a small business owner we’d encourage you to read the report, and use it as an opportunity to reflect on your own wellbeing and how you can improve it. If you’re an advisor to small businesses, have a think about how you could help your clients achieve a better balance in their lives with these insights in mind.

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