Do Business Owners Really Work That Much Harder?

Last Updated Sep 9, 2010 1:40 PM EDT

One of the most commonly cited negatives of small business ownership is the endless work day. "You'll work harder than you ever have in your life," is a typical warning given by the veteran entrepreneur counseling the wannabe business owner. But do entrepreneurs really work all that much harder than employees? The Debunker took a look at the available facts.

Let's start with the entrepreneurial workweek. Small business owners punch in about 47.6 hours a week, according to a survey of more than 1,200 North American business owners commissioned by TB Bank and performed by Environics Research during May and June 2010.

No survey seems to have asked the same questions and used the same methodology to sample both employees and entrepreneurs, so it's necessary elsewhere to find out how much non-business owners worked. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the most widely used source of figures on employment and work weeks, and it's preliminary survey released in September 2010 found the average employee of a private non-farm enterprise put in 34.2 hours a week during August.

Other surveys have also found that business owners work longer hours than employees. A 2009 poll, for instance, reported 39 percent of small business owners worked more than 10 hours a day, compared to just 20 percent of employees. Back in 2005, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index reported small business owners clocking an average of 52 hours a week.

It's not conclusive to compare figures from different sources, but it does appear from these that the average entrepreneur most likely works harder, or at least longer hours, than the average employee. Note, however, that some employees do labor pretty energetically. Witness the 20 percent who put in 10-hour-plus days. That hard-driving bunch of wage slaves actually outworks the 51 percent of entrepreneurs, from the same study, who made do with shorter spans in the office.

The best answer to the question of whether a small business owner is actually liable to work harder than he or she has ever worked is: Probably, but not necessarily. Lots of small business owners seem to do just fine getting in at 9 and leaving at 5, or the equivalent. The never-ending workday of entrepreneurship may be more of a choice than a requirement.

So if you find that you want to or have to put in extremely long days at the office, it may be not be normal at all. It may, in fact, be an indication that something's wrong. You may need to fine-tune your systems and processes to make them more efficient, delegate additional tasks to others, or just stop believing what you've always been told about the endless entrepreneurial work day.


(Working class hero photo courtesy of Flickr user Manuel Van De Weijer, CC 2.0)
  • Mark Henricks

    Mark Henricks' reporting on business and other topics has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Inc., Entrepreneur, and many other leading publications. He lives in Austin, Texas, where myth looms as large as it does anywhere.

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