From managing stress to switching off if you work from home, during our webchat a panel of experts offered their advice on carving out down-time
Whether or not you need to create a home office is a personal choice. Photograph: Tony Tallec/Alamy
A lack of work-life balance is a common issue among entrepreneurs and the self-employed. However, it is important to take time out to recharge – and it could even give you a renewed vigour for business.
In 2014/15, 9.9m days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. And while entrepreneurs need to manage their team’s stress levels, they can also have a tendency to overwork – 76% of small business owners have sacrificed a holiday to business obligations, according to a poll by Xero.
During our webchat on how to find a better work-life balance when you’re the boss, a panel of experts answered a range of questions, from how to recognise and deal with stress to whether it is a good idea to use a virtual personal assistant (PA).
To begin with, they discussed how to respond to work emails received outside of working hours. Dr Gary Wood, a chartered psychologist, said: “The problem with email is that there are no boundaries, no limits and no set times as with traditional forms of communication, therefore it’s important for the individual to set some.”
He suggested setting up an out-of-office message over weekends, which lets people know when they might expect to receive a reply. “Then, when the need to respond outside of these times arises, it becomes the exception rather than the rule,” he added.
Chris Bryce, chief executive of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, said that often self-employed people do need to respond to emails in the evenings and at weekends, but they should manage expectations. “Try to prioritise your workload as best as you can. If it can wait until the morning, do let it wait [...] The most important thing is to communicate well with your clients, and let them know what’s realistic and what’s not, with the time you have.”
Email is just one factor of working life that contributes to stress in the modern office. A little stress can be motivating, but too much is debilitating. Our panel discussed how to spot negative signs of stress in yourself and in your employees, and how to manage stressful periods of work.
Alan Price, senior director at Peninsula Business Services, an employment law and HR consultancy, said: “You will be able to notice changes in employees’ behaviour, they may get short-tempered, be quieter than normal or show behaviour that is different from the norm.”
He explained that as stress affects everyone differently, it can be tough to spot, so good communication is vital. “Consider offering an EAP (employee assistance programme) service, whereby employees can seek confidential advice from trained professionals,” he added.
Commenting on the situation of the self-employed, Bryce said: “As a freelancer, you’ll always have times where it seems you have very little work, and times when it seems like it’s too much. It’s important to make some time for yourself during these periods, this could be going to the gym, going for a run or spending time with family.”
If you run a business alone and do not have the option to find someone permanent to fill in when you are on holiday, then a virtual PA could be one option to keep business ticking over. Reader Edith Karnitsch asked: “I’m worried that a PA service will put clients off as they will only be able to take notes but not resolve anything. What does the panel think?”
Nic Williams, founder and owner of My Own Den, suggested asking customers what they would prefer. “In my experience, people like sharing their opinions and giving advice,” she said.
Ant Clifford, owner of Creative Stream, a digital design agency, said: “Whatever the solution, clear communication seems to be the key. If a PA service isn’t communicating who you are when they answer then they’re not right.”
It is particularly easy for work to creep into leisure time if you work at home. One reader asked: “Is it easier to keep the balance if you work from home or in a separate office?”
The panel all suggested that it was a personal choice, depending on how disciplined you are and the type of surroundings you prefer. Bryce said: “Try mixing up your work location to see what works for you.”
Wood suggested that if you do have a home office you could try a wind-down ritual: “It could be a your favourite TV show, a bit of yoga. Anything to say work is over and it’s now ‘me-time’.”