Study: Entrepreneurs differ in handling startup stress

New entrepreneurs behave differently from experienced business owners in handling the stress of starting new ventures, according to the results of a study conducted at the University of Colorado in 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 Maw-Der Foo, an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business at CU and co-author of the study.

The study defined experienced entrepreneurs as those who had experience with at least one prior startup no matter the duration or whether the venture was successful.

“If you are an experienced entrepreneur, you know the value of stepping away from the problem for a moment,” Foo said. “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 striking a balance between breathers and productive time on the job further improves the mental well-being of entrepreneurs.

The study — led by Marilyn Uy while she was a doctoral student at CU — looked at the effects of two mechanisms called active coping and avoidance coping.

 “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,” Foo added.

For the study, the results of which were published in the Journal of Business Venturing, survey responses from 156 entrepreneurs in various fields were analyzed.

In part of the survey, entrepreneurs 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.

Entrepreneurs also were asked about prior startup experiences and to rate their psychological well-being based on a series of questions that included: “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?” “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 said 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,” Foo said. “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.”