Small business owners in Singapore more likely to experience work stress

Photo by ANTHONY SHKRABA production

Xero has launched a report revealing a unique paradox expressed by Singapore’s small business owners. While reporting the highest levels of work-related stress in comparison to their peers, they additionally ranked second globally in the categories of overall wellbeing and life satisfaction.

The report, The global state of small business owner wellbeing found that of the seven countries surveyed from November 2022 through to February 2023, only Singaporean and South African small business owners reported higher levels of wellbeing than the general population results in the 2023 World Happiness Report. Singapore and South Africa additionally placed equal second in terms of life satisfaction closely behind New Zealand small business owners. Their United Kingdom counterparts reported the lowest level of life satisfaction.

Using the World Health Organisation’s Five (WHO-5) Well-Being Index framework, the report found that small business owners in Singapore had the second highest overall wellbeing, with younger small business owners under 30 years old indicating higher overall wellbeing levels than those over 50, in contrast to the findings in Australia and New Zealand.

Despite having higher levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction, Singapore small business owners on average experienced more financial distress, stress related to managing employees and business issues feeding into personal stress compared to their global counterparts.

Thirty percent of Singaporean small business owners said that they experience financial distress and 35 percent expressed personal stress due to work most or all of the time, ranking the highest of all countries surveyed in both categories.

Singaporean small business owners were additionally the least likely to be able to take a break; only 39 percent of business owners reported being able to take a break from work most or all of the time – 10 percent points lower than the average of the seven countries in the study.

Koren Wines, Managing Director, Xero Asia, said, “These insights reveal a pressing need to provide greater support to small business owners in Singapore, particularly with regard to their wellbeing. The multitude of challenges that they face, especially in today’s uncertain and volatile macro environment can be overwhelming.”

“We encourage small businesses to leverage technology and data as well as automate tasks where possible to increase productivity and efficiency and give them greater visibility and control over their businesses.”

Global factors more impactful than local issues

The global state of small business owner wellbeing drew on responses from more than 4600 small business owners in seven countries – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States – to better understand how small business ownership affects different aspects of one’s wellbeing.

“Despite rising awareness of wellbeing in all facets of our lives, there has been little data about small business wellbeing beyond financial measures,” said Rachael Powell, Chief Customer Officer, Xero.

“Our research highlights what we already suspected – that small business owners are experiencing many wellbeing challenges at the moment, coming at them from a variety of sources.”

Among the findings, which reference to Xero’s own research as well as respected global frameworks, was the prominence of global factors over national ones. Despite small businesses in different countries facing local stresses of varying severity, small business owners in most countries reported fairly similar overall levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction, suggesting a greater level of influence from common global issues rather than national issues.

Other themes identified as contributing to small business owner wellbeing include business-related stress spilling over into personal lives; the ability of a small business owner to take time to rest and recover; undertaking fulfilling work; and access to affordable counselling or peer support.

The Xero research also highlighted differences between younger and older small business owners. In all seven countries studied, small business owners under 30 were more likely to be experiencing financial distress than small business owners over 50. Similarly, small business owners under 30 are likely to feel more stressed about their employees’ wellbeing than owners over 50. 

Report offers four recommendations

The global state of small business owner wellbeing offers four recommendations to help improve small business wellbeing:

  1. Investment in policies that encourage small business innovation, learning, and upskilling
  2. Training and guidance in addressing the root causes of employees’ mental health issues
  3. Counselling and peer support networks to help small business navigate their challenges
  4. Exploring ways to achieve restedness that intentionally set business matters aside