Is burnout slowing down business?

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Is burnout slowing down business? Image: Gallo/Getty Images
Is burnout slowing down business? Image: Gallo/Getty Images

These days there’s an increasing number of successful female-run businesses. Women are taking ownership of their own destinies, following their passions and monetising their futures. Ask them how they do it and hard work goes without saying. But that’s not to be confused with over-working because the latter can fast lead to burn-out.

What is burn-out?

According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases, “burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.” They classify it as an occupational phenomenon” specifically related to the work context.

READ MORE | Practical ways to navigate a toxic work environment

If you’re experiencing burn-out you could slow down your progress. That’s why knowing when to take a break is vital.

Putting pressure on yourself

Buyisiwe Dlamini, founder, head interior designer and creative director at Buhle Bendalo Designs, wears many hats. If she’s not on site working on a live project, she’s popping in and out of shops searching for new suppliers, while building new relationships. These activities are followed by financial planning, budgeting and filing for taxes. Most of her days end at around 8pm.

A day in Buyisiwe’s life involves tailor-making interiors for clients. “For example, if I’m making a couch for a client, that involves specifying things like fabric – going into a fabric house to choose a fabric or making one from scratch. If it’s a carpet, I have to go to a manufacturer, choose one and wait for about six weeks for the final product. I’m also responsible for staying relevant online, where I simultaneously take time to follow trends for new ideas,” she explains.

Running my business comes with a lot of sacrifices and can result in anxiety
Kefiloe Dikgole, founder of NovamourSA

“I try to manage myself as I manage my staff, but I’m much harder on myself. I prepare a list of what I’m trying to achieve in a particular timeline and I show up. I’m currently looking at my vision within a five-year period and I’ve broken it down into daily goals that will help me get there. I keep myself motivated by sketching and leveraging international markets for inspiration, as well as taking up educational courses. As an entrepreneur if I think of an idea today I’m doing it tomorrow, even if it means waking up at 2am. I’m always looking for new ways to improve. Between 2017 and 2019 sleep was a myth to me and having to slow down in 2020 became a huge challenge – but one that made me start appreciating sleep and the importance of resting.”

Buyisiwe has had numerous burn- outs over the past five years. “Some of the symptoms I’ve experienced include deep sadness, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, lack of sleep and loss of appetite,” she says. She describes it as a very lonely experience because people constantly ask why she doesn’t rest and don’t get it.


Recently Buyisiwe has taken measures to curb the frequency of her burn-outs. “One of the ways I’ve worked through burn-out is by going to therapy to identify why I constantly feel like I need to work. I also spend a lot of time with my family, I pray, practise meditation, exercise and unplug from my phone.”

Shouldering the Lockdown Load

Kefiloe Dikgole, founder of NovamourSA, a bakery, events and catering company, used to be at her busiest from September to December, but during lockdown there was a surprising spike in orders for cakes and catering. Due to social distancing measures however, she had to let go of employees, leaving all the operations and creativity up to her and causing a disruption in her business management style.

“Just as I’m focussing on one aspect of the business another idea and responsibility comes to mind. I work anywhere from 6am to 1am,” Kefiloe shares. “In all honesty sleep can be a myth. Sometimes it seems like I’m sleeping in my room but my mind will be actively planning, plotting designs and wondering where I’ll be getting my supplies from.”

READ MORE | How to cope with money anxiety 

Kefiloe loves what she does and understands that it takes hard work to grow a business, but the stress still takes its toll. “Running my business comes with a lot of sacrifices and can result in anxiety. I get edgy and start snapping and at some point my creativity is stunted or everyone in the house tells me to go take a nap because I’m grumpy,” she says.


“Lately, when I find that my creativity is being stunted, I just stop,” Kefiloe says. “I binge-watch series, hike or spend time close to water and re-evaluate my capacity.” In addition, she’s created more structure in her business. “I’ve also recently applied for an incubation programme. My goal is to scale and I’m putting myself in a position to receive the correct guidance and support in achieving this goal. I also really believe in protecting my peace.

And money is not going to do so, so I reject clients who are rude, impatient and demanding,” she says.

Spreading Yourself Too Thin

Nandi Dlepu is the creative and managing director at Mamakashaka, the creative agency behind events like Feel Good Series, Bloom, Pantone Sundays and Umi – Our Music Festival. Nandi wears three hats across the business: “I wear the managing director hat, managing the profitability and business aspects, supported by my legal supplier and accountant. I also wear the hat of the strategist – where the company is going and what we need to do across the brand as well as strategising each brand we work with. Then I wear the hat of the creative director – everything is conceptualised by me, the big ideas are originated by me and then I have amazing creative partners who help me realise those ideas,” she explains.

Towards the end of my full-time job, just before quitting to start my own company, I was hospitalised because of burn-out related symptoms
Nandi Dlepu, Creative and Managing Director at Mamakashaka

Nandi brings on partners as needed, but most of the work she handles individually. “I work every day and average 10 to 12 hours,” she says. “If I work the weekend then my time off is Monday. Yes, working for myself allows me flexibility but I don’t really switch off completely. Throughout my career I’ve been under a lot of strain,” she shares.

“Towards the end of my full-time job, just before quitting to start my own company, I was hospitalised because of burn-out related symptoms. It was from doing too much, working too hard and playing hard.”

During her time working in agencies she’d struggle to sleep because she felt wired from being constantly busy. She’d suffer from panic and anxiety attacks, emotional breakdowns and feel like everything was falling apart.


“I’m now so cognisant of the kind of strain one can put themselves under by trying to do a lot of things for everyone. This experience taught me to be kinder to myself when I started my business and now I prioritise breaks. Just before I started my recent project I went on holiday.”

Nandi recoups in different ways, pointing out that it’s different for everyone. “Sometimes it’s giving myself permission to have fun, sometimes I turn down work or spend time alone. I’m also renowned for naps where I shift things around to be able to take a 20- to 30-minute power nap.”

Nandi Dlepu's tips for avoiding burnout 

  • Be mindful... that your understanding of balance does not lean towards perfection.
  • Be conscious... and active about your need for rest.
  • Take time... to reflect and see if you’re happy with your work output, quality time with loved ones and how you take care of yourself. Know... what type of rest speaks to you and do more of that. It could be taking walks or putting on earphones to listen to white noise like water or soothing sounds.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24