Wellbeing

“Killing the dream”: Business owners sleeping just four hours a night to keep up with $20 billion red-tape burden

Matthew Elmas /

mental health

Billy Goat Soap founder Leanne Faulkner. Source: Supplied.

Small-business owners are burning the candle at both ends to keep the doors open, according to new research, which has found many are sacrificing sleep to keep up with the administrative burden of doing business in Australia.

A worrying survey of more than 1,300 small-business leaders released today by accounting software firm Reckon has revealed the average business owner is getting just 4.5 hours of sleep per night, far below the seven-nine hours recommended by doctors.

A whopping 84% of respondents said they sacrifice personal time to keep up with administration and red-tape requirements, while 13% admitted to doing their payroll before 6am.

The findings come amid fresh concern about the administrative burden being placed on small-business owners as advocates continue to lobby politicians to address burdensome red tape.

Red tape costing billions

Reckon’s research has estimated Aussie small businesses are losing $20.16 billion each year to red-tape and administration costs, an average of 541 hours in time and $14,857 per business.

Survey participant Leslie Lowe, managing director of the T.E.C.K.nology Indigenous Corporation, said he often wakes up at 4am to ensure he can stay on top of emails, administration and compliance reporting.

“Running your own business can be incredibly stressful. There have been a number of times when I found myself prioritising work over health and wellbeing, such as skipping on sleep, when the everyday demands of sustaining a profitable business and admin pressures build up,” he said.

The stress is getting to many, with 46% of respondents saying administration and red tape is “killing the dream” of small-business ownership that prompted them to start their own businesses in the first place.

More than half (58%) of respondents to the Reckon survey admitted to making mistakes while doing administrative tasks that had a financial consequence, such as overpaying or underpaying a supplier.

Stress from overwork and interruptions from phone calls and emails were cited by respondents as common factors preventing them from working at peak performance.

Nathan Schokker, owner of facilities management business Talio, says administration and red tape is a “constant stress”.

“Often long after the work is done, business owners are working through everything else: invoices, following up jobs, seeking feedback, internal paperwork, client paperwork, tax, accounting and bookkeeping,” he tells SmartCompany.

“Then if you have someone question an invoice it’s often long after it was due to be paid with excuses like, ‘it must have been in my junk folder’ or, ‘I don’t think I should pay this charge now’.

“All of this tends to pile on stress as business owners are often battling cashflow ups and downs, trying to find any form of work-life balance, managing relationships with staff, suppliers, clients, potential business along with just everyday life stresses.”

“Too often overlooked”

It’s not the first time business owners have admitted to having poor work-life balance. Last year, a Westpac survey found 63% of business owners planned on skipping family time over Christmas to keep their businesses going.

Steve Agi, owner of Victorian-based business Burger Love, admitted he has never managed to find a balance between owning a company and his personal life.

“I’ve got a wife and three kids and I’m practically married to the business, not my wife,” Agi told SmartCompany last November.

Small business mental-health advocate Leanne Faulkner, who founded Billie Goat Soap and is now the owner of Fortitude at Work, says the demands of owning a small business are “too often overlooked”.

“This highlights how all sectors of business have a responsibility for the wellbeing of our small-business sector in Australia,” Faulkner tells SmartCompany.

“We cannot address the area of wellbeing support in isolation — we need all sectors to understand the role they play on creating mentally healthy workplaces in small business.”

Pursuing change

With small business at the forefront of campaign promises heading into the federal election next month, red tape is becoming a hot topic in the small-business space.

Tax relief, dispute resolution and payment times have been a focus for both major parties, but the Council of Small Businesses of Australia (COSBOA) remains concerned not enough is being done to simplify regulation.

Meanwhile, small businesses across the country are currently scrambling to be ready for single touch payroll (STP) reporting by the July 1 soft deadline, adding to compliance headaches.

Reckon estimates 21% of small-business owners, or 659,000, still don’t even believe or know if their business meets existing payroll reporting requirements, while 24% of survey respondents said they don’t use accounting and payroll software.

This story was updated at 11:51AM AEST May 2. 

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].

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