April 18, 2012 06:22 ET

Increased Physical and Mental Stress, but UK SMEs Are Determined and Up for New Challenges

- Over three quarters (77%) report ailments at work and 45% are more stressed than a year ago

- Half (50%) expect to grow this year; one in ten aiming for 10-20%

- Nearly two thirds (64%) ready to face the challenges of the year ahead

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM--(Marketwire - April 18, 2012) - Small businesses, the lifeblood of the UK economy, have been carrying the stresses and strains of the world on their backs since the beginning of the recession. However, it won't stop them gunning for growth this year, according to new research from specialist business insurer Hiscox.

The research analysed how UK business owners were feeling about their health and well-being as they face the challenge of growing successful businesses in the current environment. Despite many reporting stresses and strains and only 2% of business owners believing the economy is already in recovery:

  • Half of business owners (50%) expect to grow their business this year compared to 15% who expect to contract
  • Over one in ten (12%) are striving for between 10%-20% growth
  • Confidence prevails with 48% feeling positive compared to 26% who are not so assured

Alan Thomas, small business insurance expert at Hiscox, comments on the findings:

"SMEs are working hard to sustain and grow their businesses in the current climate and, if they get back what they put in, they will continue in their role as the engine room of the British economy. They may find it hard going along the way, but their determination, focus and an unwavering commitment to grow and seize opportunity, can only benefit us all.

"As they plot their route to success though, SME owners should understand the personal and professional risks they face and call on support when they need it."

Findings from the research:

Stresses and strains

Just over three quarters of respondents (77%) reported suffering ailments in the workplace, including a lack of energy (31%), anxious thoughts (31%), headaches (26%) and back pain (26%). A combination of long hours and working harder to service new business could be what has driven nearly half (45%) of small business owners to say they feel more stressed now than they did a year ago. The key drivers of stress include the fear of losing their business altogether (57%), losing clients (54%), the pressures of bringing in new business (52%) and being constantly on call (40%).

Working harder and smarter to grow

Perhaps buoyed by the economic outlook, many small businesses are working harder to service both existing and new clients. Over one in seven (14%) of those working longer hours than last year experienced a surge in new clients and 44% are working harder to service existing clients. Seventeen per cent work 11 hours or more every day, although the majority (58%) reported working between eight and 10 hours daily.

Where small business owners are working less hours than they were a year ago, 14% have implemented technologies to make them more efficient, 11% are sharing responsibility and 9% have hired new staff members.

Bring it on

Despite feelings of stress, nearly two thirds (64%) feel mentally prepared to tackle the business challenges of the year ahead, which could be related to 68% saying they try to manage a good work / life balance, 43% giving priority to their physical health and 43% knowing where to get help and support if they need it.

When asked how they would describe themselves at work, 'determined' came out top (47%), followed by focused (43%), open-minded (42%) and flexible (40%).

Challenges for the year ahead:

  • Loss of customers (40%)
  • Customer loyalty (36%)
  • Economic downturn / Eurozone instability (32%)
  • Budget cuts (27%)
  • Improving business performance (25%)
  • Access to finance (25%)

Psychologist Donna Dawson who specialises in personality and behaviour, comments on the findings:

"The Hiscox survey reveals that many UK business leaders are trying to achieve a good work/life balance but need to be more watchful of their physical health. Presently many bosses are feeling the strains and as they are less 'certain' that economic recovery has begun they are more focused on their business and less so on themselves. In such a working environment, it is easy to see how business leaders can overlook the vicious circle created by stress and ill-health: once made ill by stress, more stress is created by worrying about how this will impact on business.

"Business leaders need to be aware of their individual stress 'tipping point', and strive to avoid it by having in place some pre-emptive stress-management strategies in the form of both personal effort and sound business support."

Dr David Bull, a medical doctor and entrepreneur who advises on corporate health and well-being, comments:

"Businesses are operating under extraordinarily stressful circumstances. Stress is an important biological process in dealing with difficult situations. But the stress reaction is intended to be temporary. When it becomes chronic, it can have a profound effect on psychological and physical health.

"Chronic stress can lead to burnout and mean business owners cannot perform to their optimum. Their decision making processes become impaired, leading to poor management and consequently businesses could suffer.

"It's important to make sure that business owners take steps to combat stress which include eating healthily, making time for exercise, ensuring they get enough sleep, having time out, taking part in hobbies and ensuring that they take holidays. It's also important for them to talk about how they feel - whether it's informally with friends or in a more formal setting of mentoring and counselling."

For more information about Hiscox business insurance, visit: www.hiscox.co.uk/business-insurance/

For more details about the Hiscox SME research and Donna Dawson's top tips for combating stress, visit: www.hiscox.co.uk/smehealth.

Notes to Editors:

About the research

Populus interviewed 502 business leaders (owner managers, proprietors, managing directors, board level directors / partners, and directors) in SMEs with up to 249 employees in the UK online, between February 8-22, 2012.

About Hiscox

Hiscox, the international specialist insurer, is headquartered in Bermuda and listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE:HSX). There are three main underwriting parts of the Group - Hiscox London Market, Hiscox UK and Europe and Hiscox International. Hiscox London Market underwrites internationally traded business in the London Market - generally large or complex business which needs to be shared with other insurers or needs the international licences of Lloyd's. Hiscox UK and Hiscox Europe offer a range of specialist insurance for professionals and business customers, as well as high net worth individuals. Hiscox International includes operations in Bermuda, Guernsey and USA. Hiscox Insurance Company Limited, Hiscox Underwriting Limited, Hiscox Europe Underwriting Limited and Hiscox Syndicates Limited are authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority.

For further information, visit www.hiscox.com.

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