11 January 2022
If the last 2 years have shown us anything, it’s how important our health is. But there’s a silent epidemic sweeping the nation that needs our attention, and it’s disproportionately affecting small and medium business owners – loneliness.
Loneliness is more than just being on your own, it’s characterised by a deep feeling of disconnect and as many as 73% of business owners admit to having felt lonely whilst running their company. When you consider that over four and a half million SMEs in the UK have no employees, it’s unsurprising.
So, it’s a problem affecting SME owners in particular, but is it really a big deal? Bigger than you might think. Numbers don’t lie, and the Loneliness Monetisation Report from Simetrica, published in June 2020, estimates the wellbeing cost of severe loneliness is equivalent to £9,537 per person per year. If that’s not enough to shock you, the health effects are even worse.
Research by health insurance company Cigna suggests that feeling lonely is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, reduced immunity, and depression. All this means that those who experience chronic loneliness are 26% more likely to die an early death.
Despite the clear prevalence of loneliness among SME owners, it’s still very much a taboo topic. We are social creatures who rely on being part of a group for survival, so when you feel like you have no connection to the people around you, it can feel like you’ve failed at the most basic evolutionary function – relationships. When we feel shame, we isolate ourselves, and as we isolate ourselves we become even more lonely. But chances are, if you feel lonely, then you know someone else who does too.
Evidence from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that you’re 52% more likely to feel lonely if someone you’re directly connected to is lonely. It could be a spouse, friend, or even a business partner, but when you start looking for the signs, it’s likely you’ll find someone else in the same pit as you. The best way to leave your loneliness behind could be to address it out loud to those people – perhaps your lack of connection will be the thing that connects you.
Networking can sometimes come across like a business cliche, but it’s more than just about ‘who you know’. Meeting people who have been in your situation, and know the frustrations that come with it, can be invaluable in the fight against loneliness. While you might not feel brave enough to speak out loud about your loneliness to peers, the feeling of being understood and relating to other’s experiences can be powerful.
Not all networking is equil. You may need to try a few different groups or approaches to find the one that suits you best. There are industry meetups, specific to your sector, more broad focusses like ‘creative’ or ‘agencies’, or even groups that cater exclusively to entrepreneurs. Some are online, others are based in offices, or even the pub. The world of SMEs is becoming more diverse, which brings with it plenty of opportunities to find like minded individuals. We work with Dffrnt, a membership organisation which supports start ups, and Bristol Creative Industries, a membership network who support collaboartive work. Both provide a sense of community that suit us specifically. Make the time to go looking for the right one for you.
While our body can create the feeling of loneliness to protect us and motivate us to connect with others, it can feel really difficult to do anything to fix it. Other than your family, relationships develop with people who were once strangers. Approaching those strangers can be anxiety inducing a lot of the time, particularly when you are feeling so vulnerable. With people you know, opening up about your loneliness can feel just as vulnerable and scary.
Expect the uncomfortable and choose to move through it. No SME founder is a stranger to risk. Addressing your loneliness can feel risky, but there really is no downside. Society teaches us that opening up about our feelings is a mistake, and our body reacts to that belief, but the reality doesn’t add up. A study done at the University of Texas at Austin found that loneliness and binge-watching TV are linked. Researchers concluded that watching familiar shows on repeat might hold the negative feelings back, in a temporary way. Whatever your coping strategy, you may need to shed it and force yourself out of your comfort zone in order to grow.
It might feel counterintuitive to bring your feelings into a professional relationship, but at FD Works we understand that we’re working with human beings, not faceless businesses. One of the most common feelings that SME founders experience is one of feeling misunderstood. While many service providers force businesses into easy to understand boxes, we celebrate our client’s complexities and take the time to get to know the people behind the numbers. Not only is it good for business, hopefully it helps a few more SME owners feel less alone.