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Well-being: The hidden cost of success for entrepreneurs in Singapore

Koren Wines
Koren Wines • 6 min read
Well-being: The hidden cost of success for entrepreneurs in Singapore
In chasing success, many business owners are prone to neglecting their own well-being, prioritising their bottom line. Photo: Unsplash
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In just a handful of decades, Singapore has grown from a key maritime hub to the region’s leading commercial centre for a range of thriving industries, including tech, finance, and manufacturing. The country consistently ranks amongst the world’s most competitive economies year-on-year and maintains its number one position here in Asia. For a tiny island with few natural resources and a small population, this achievement is both an inspiration and a challenge for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). 

In Asia’s most competitive economy, SMEs, which make up 99% of Singapore’s commercial enterprises, face enormous pressure to stay on top, placing significant strain on their owners’ well-being. This burden is a hidden cost of entrepreneurship.

The balancing act

Worldwide, small businesses face similar challenges. From managing cash flow to dealing with endless admin and increasingly complex processes, staying profitable is hard work. Maintaining existing customers while attracting new business and adapting quickly to evolving consumer expectations is a delicate balancing act that can be exhausting for business owners.

Add to this the current economic volatility, including inflation, rising costs, and labour shortages, it’s no surprise that Singapore’s small business owners are feeling the pressure. While they work tirelessly on enabling their businesses to thrive, they often overlook their general well-being.

Shining a spotlight on mental well-being

See also: How tech companies are retaining female talent in Asia Pacific (Part 2)

Business success is measured in its simplest terms by profit and growth. And in chasing success, many business owners are prone to neglecting their own wellbeing, prioritising their bottom line.

A survey conducted by Xero across seven countries has revealed that Singapore small business owners experience a variety of stressors. Close to one-third of small business owners are more likely to suffer from financial distress, and another 35% are experiencing personal stress because of work, ranking the highest of all countries surveyed in both categories.

Meanwhile, more than half (55%) flagged that their business is under financial distress more than half the time, 19% higher than the global average.

See also: How tech companies are retaining female talent in Asia Pacific (Part 1)

Beyond the financials, managing employees and nurturing their well-being was cited as another pressure point. Close to half (44%) of the respondents across the seven countries surveyed feel stressed from managing employee wellbeing more than half the time, and Singaporean small business owners were significantly more likely to do so.

Full speed ahead

Technology is widely recognised as an enabler for small businesses, helping to alleviate those business challenges. Automating mundane tasks, for example, gives employees time to focus on more meaningful work like product development, marketing, and strategy. This increases employee satisfaction and drives professional growth, while data and insights produced from integrated digital solutions give their owners and managers greater visibility so they can better manage cash flow, resources, investments, inventory and more.

Government initiatives like the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) have also been instrumental in supporting small businesses in Singapore to improve their productivity, resilience, and competitiveness by utilising technology. Enterprise Singapore is another great example, helping small businesses automate existing processes through IT solutions and equipment so they can focus on innovating and growing.

Zairyo is a standout example of a business that leveraged the PSG and the Digital Resilience Bonus to integrate and streamline its systems. The gourmet Japanese e-grocer previously used Excel sheets for tracing, tracking, quotations, billing, product price list databases, and reconciliation. This manual approach was time-consuming and prone to human error, which then took additional time and effort to correct.

Switching to Xero’s cloud accounting solution reduced the time spent on accounts and reconciliation by 75% and reduced human error by 80%. Further onboarding online delivery platforms, automated inventory tracking, cashless payments and InvoiceNow, Zairyo was able to not only keep their business running throughout circuit breaker and subsequent restrictions but successfully grew (and fulfilled!) their sales by 400% compared to the same period in the previous year.

It takes a village

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For many small businesses with small teams, employees are like family and business owners are rightfully concerned about their employees’ well-being. Sam Ang, the owner of a local Japanese-inspired sandwich cafe 46 Mittsu, believes in fostering a healthy work-life balance for his team. The cafe opens at 8 am and closes at 3.30 pm, well ahead of peak commuting hours, allowing employees to rest after work. Creating positive and supportive working environments translates to a happier and more engaged workplace for owners and employees alike.

Looking at additional support frameworks, peer networks offer entrepreneurs safe spaces where they are able to freely discuss their challenges. The Singapore Business Federation, for example, helps business owners share ways to reduce employee stress and learn from each other how to cope with their own stress.

Finally, the survey found that policymakers are also crucial in facilitating small business continuity and vibrancy. Increased investment and policy support for counselling services for entrepreneurs was a common ask amongst all seven countries surveyed. These services can address the unique position and pressures of small business ownership to help improve the mental health of owners.

Additionally, policies that support learning, upskilling, and innovation also create a sense of fulfilment at work, driving greater well-being and critical to a happy workplace. Unsurprisingly, the survey found a direct link between doing work that is satisfying and overall well-being.  

Singapore’s Smart Nation plan is widely recognised as the gold standard in this area and represents a visionary approach to fostering innovation, upskilling, and learning. At its core, it is underpinned by a commitment to harnessing technology and innovation to propel the Singapore economy, businesses and people forward. Smart Nation places innovation at the forefront of the country’s development and supports technology adoption to enable businesses to become more resilient, competitive and successful.

It can absolutely be stressful running a business in Asia’s most competitive economy. Overcoming this stress requires the same focus, commitment, and innovation that propelled Singapore to the top. With the right policies and supporting technology, networks and communities, Singapore’s small business owners can make well-being a priority and remove this hidden cost of entrepreneurship. This begins with reframing the conversation from “How is your business doing?” to “How are you doing?”.

Koren Wines is the Managing Director of Xero Asia

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