Experienced entrepreneurs better cope with stress by knowing value of time away, says CU study

October 1, 2013 •

Taking breaks from the stress of a startup improves experienced entrepreneurs’ mental well-being, but not inexperienced entrepreneurs’ well-being, says a study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Inexperienced entrepreneurs actually become more stressed when they take a break from their work because they’re not able to completely remove themselves mentally and they feel guilty about stepping away,” said co-author Maw-Der Foo, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

The study defined experienced entrepreneurs as those who had at least one prior startup experience, no matter the duration or whether it was successful or not, according to Foo.

“If you are an experienced entrepreneur, you know the value of stepping away from the problem for a moment,” said Foo. “No one has really studied whether experience in a venture actually helps in coping, so these are new and somewhat surprising findings.”

The study also found that combining breathers with productive time on the job -- finding a balance -- further improves the mental well-being of entrepreneurs who take breaks.

The study -- led by Marilyn Uy while she was a doctoral student at CU-Boulder -- looked at the effects of two coping mechanisms called active coping and avoidance coping. Uy is now an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

“In active coping, you take the bull by the horns,” Foo said. “If you have a problem, you face it. If you lack sales, you make sales calls. If you lack funds, you seek out investors.

“Avoidance coping sounds negative, but it’s not. It means getting away from the problem for a moment. You go watch a movie, go have coffee with friends or go on a vacation, for example.”

For the study, published last month in the Journal of Business Venturing, survey responses from 156 entrepreneurs in various fields were analyzed. All participants were members of the Entrepreneurs Society of the Philippines.

In part of the survey, they were asked to think about the most stressful venture-related experience they’d been dealing with in the previous two months, and rate the extent to which they’d been using coping mechanisms.

They also were asked about prior startup experience and to rate their psychological well-being based on questions including, “Have you recently been able to concentrate on whatever you were doing,” “Have you recently been able to enjoy your normal day-to-day activities” and “Have you recently been losing much sleep over worry?”

“We think that well-being is important because we know that many entrepreneurs are stressed and many ventures fail, not because the business is not profitable, but because many entrepreneurs just cannot take the stress, so they give up their venture in order not to have that lifestyle,” Foo said.

He says the findings could lead to a future study of what predicts stress for entrepreneurs and how they can cope.

“Entrepreneurship is a very stressful occupation,” said Foo. “We know entrepreneurs work longer hours and take fewer vacations. They’re the boss, which means the buck stops with them, but it really means that they need to please suppliers and investors, attract good workers and to do all this with very limited resources.”

Zhaoli Song, associate professor at the National University of Singapore business school, also co-authored the study.

To view the study visit http://www.mawder.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/2012JBV.pdf. For more information on Foo visit http://www.mawder.com. For more information about CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business visit http://leeds.colorado.edu/.

Contacts

Maw-Der Foo, 303-735-5423
maw.foo@colorado.edu
Elizabeth Lock, CU media relations, 303-492-3117
elizabeth.lock@colorado.edu

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