When it comes to taking a break from a stressful situation at work, it might be a good idea to take a page out of an experienced entrepreneurs' book and step away from work without piling on the self-guilt.
A study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder's Leeds School of Business and published last month in the Journal of Business Venturing found that the ability to step away from the office is such a valued tool among experienced entrepreneurs that it actually improves their psychological well-being. Researchers call it "avoidance coping."
Think "avoidance coping" sounds irresponsible or unproductive? Maw-Der Foo, the associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business who co-authored the study, argues that it's really not.
“Avoidance coping sounds negative, but it’s not," Foo said. "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.”
The study contrasted a combined group of 156 experienced and less-experienced entrepreneurs and found that the less-experienced in the group tended to view taking a break negatively and that it causes them more stress because they tend to do more "active coping."
“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.
Uy, M.A., et al., Joint effects of prior startup experience and coping strategies on entrepreneurs’ psychological well-being, J. Bus. Venturing (2012), doi:10.1016/j.jbusvent.2012.04.003
As shown in Fig. 1, the upward sloping line indicates that for entrepreneurs with more startup experience, there is a positive relationship between avoidance coping and PWB. In contrast, the downward sloping line suggests that for entrepreneurs with minimal prior start-up experience, there is a negative relationship between avoidance coping and PWB.
“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 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.”
“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."
Every successful venture, the researchers argue, requires some combination of active coping and avoidance coping. But the key to truly making avoidance coping work for you and allowing it to have a positive impact on your psychological well-being, is to know its value.
From the study:
Importantly, while entrepreneurs need to address venture problems directly, they also need to obtain temporary respite from stressful situations at least in the immediate term to prevent the risk of burnout (Blonk et al., 2006).
As one famous entrepreneur and author said, “Without a break, there may just be no breakthrough” (May, 2011). The importance of active coping is something that entrepreneurs could easily embrace, but perhaps the case is different for avoidance coping. The value of temporarily distancing from the stressful situation in the immediate term might be less evident especially for novice entrepreneurs who may be more reticent to take breaks for fear that if they take their eyes off the venture for one moment, problems will worsen. To excerpt from an entrepreneur's blog: “As entrepreneurs, we tend to feel guilty about taking breaks. In the past, I used to be riddled with guilt when I took a full hour for lunch. We somehow got misinformed that the more we time we spend working, working, working…the better off we are” (Riley, 2011). Our study suggests that incorporating short breaks and temporary respites could also be beneficial to immediate PWB particularly for individual with more start-up experience. At least in the immediate term, one could use avoidance coping in an effective way by not worrying or feeling guilty while being temporarily away.