If you are like most small business owners you probably don’t take a lot of vacations. We all know we should take more but things come up. When I do go on vacation I relax and come back to work refreshed. I must say I don’t like to take too much time away because, frankly I get bored. Maybe that’s because I love my work. I also know other business owners who feel the same way. Not surprising! What is surprising to many is a recent study of employees regarding vacation time. The study by a staffing firm called The Creative Group asked office employees who were not executives how much vacation time they would take if they were offered unlimited vacation. Nearly 56% said it would not matter if they were offered unlimited time off. The time they would take off would remain the same. 38% said they would take more time off. Think about it. The majority of these employees would not take advantage of the extra time. It has many scratching their heads. In fact, I saw this story reported on a number of news outlets and the anchors seemed almost incredulous. I am not surprised. I think some do not give employees enough credit. Good employees know how much they are needed. They know that we face deadlines and recognize that when they are on vacation those deadlines are still there… but with fewer people to meet them. This is especially true for small and medium size businesses. Employees of a small business, if they work for a good company, believe they have more control over their work. They do have more control than a large company where there may be lots of layers of management. Employees also get more responsibility. I believe they would not take advantage of the extra time off because they know it might jeopardize the work. Of course there is another side to this story. I think that there are other reasons that employees might not like the concept of an unlimited vacation policy. Many might feel if they take more time off they are seen as not being serious about the work. They might be labeled slackers and not worthy of more responsibility or a promotion. Some might fear that taking too much time off could cost them their job. Right now there are only a few companies that have this type of policy so it is probably too early to know the results. The Society for Human Resource Management says it is about 1 percent of companies. I am guessing that these early adopters will have a lot to say as time goes on and the rest of us will learn from them.
So you did it? You booked a vacation and you are actually going to leave your business. For many small business owners taking a vacation is scary. What if a customer needs you? What if a project gets derailed and your team needs you? What if nobody needs you or for that matter does not even notice that you are gone?
That’s really scary!
A great deal has been written about the benefits of taking a vacation. We know that people who plan to take time off are healthier, manage stress better and are more productive when they are at work. Still many American workers do not take regularly scheduled vacations. The reasons are varied. Many feel they have too much to do. In fact, according to a 2014 report by Oxford Economics www.projecttimeoff.com , “Nearly four out of 10 employees state they have too much work to take PTO, and 13 percent do not take leave due to the accumulation of work that would be faced upon return.”
I relate well to that. I took time off recently and came back to a mound of e-mails, work that had piled up and requests for meetings. Reentry to the flow of work was not easy. So I decided to do some thinking about what I might do differently. Here are a few things.
I got off the plane from my vacation and went right to work. A better plan would have been to return a day early and get settled back in. This would have provided a buffer that would have eased reentry.
Before I left I crammed my first few days back with meetings. That left no time to catch up on office work and get back up to speed on projects that were underway. I think it is important to schedule your first few days back a little lighter or you will undo all the positive effects that you experience from time away. Your stress level can go right back to pre-vacation days if you overschedule.
Reprioritize the Work
Before I left for vacation I had a list of what needed to be done upon my return. That’s a great idea and but things change. One of the first things you should do is a reality check. Take a block of time and see what needs to be addressed on an urgent basis and what can wait. This time of year it’s a moving target. People are on vacation. Deadlines change. There are delays. See what needs to float to the top of the list so you can stay on track.
Get Back to Basics
This I did well. My first few days back I made sure to get back on a regular exercise and sleep schedule. While vacations are great, they can upset the routine that your body and mind craves. I got back to the gym to ramp up my energy level. And after eating out so much, cooking at home was relaxing and healthier.
Vacations are important and we need time to reconnect with family and friends. A little pre-planning for your reentry will help you keep that vacation “glow” a little longer.
All of the local news channels in our area are in the “back- to-school” programming mode. There are features about how to get the most from the last few weeks of summer, trying to get kids back on a regular schedule and planning for back-to-school shopping.
With all of the attention, I had to stop and go back to count how many days I had taken off this summer. It was telling. Not many.
I know what you are thinking. “It’s your own fault.” You are right. While most of my staff have planned and taken vacation time, I did not. I had to question why I, and countless other business owners, encourage our staff to take time off but don’t’ take our own advice. It’s not an easy answer. But here are a few of the things that I believe every business owner considers.
Picking up the Slack
During summer, there simply are not enough bodies around to do all the work. When employees are off, someone has to pick up the slack. Generally, that someone is the business owner. One business owner I know that operates a snack company routinely gets on a truck to run the routes of his vacationing drivers. The owner of a rental company goes back to pulling orders and dispatching trucks to cover for those who are off. Because most business owners know every aspect of their operation they can slip in and out of jobs to fill the gaps.
Cost of Hiring Temporary Staff
Depending upon the operation, it may be difficult to hire individuals who can come in and be productive for short periods of time. In fact, temporary workers might do more damage than good as fill-ins. Not to mention, the cost may be an expense that the business may not want to incur. If a business has part-time employees, the owner might give them extra hours to cover for employees on leave but not everyone has access to these employees.
Loss of Income
For many business owners a vacation translates to a loss of income. If they are not working, the business is not making money. This is especially true for a smaller organization where the owner is the sales person, the operations manager, the producer of goods or services and the billing department. Many service providers I know are especially concerned that customers may have needs and they will not be able to respond while on vacation. Technology has made it easier to work remotely, but depending upon the service it may not be appropriate.
Of course there are also business owners who are simply “workaholics” and just don’t want to go on vacation.
The lack of vacation is not just a small business issue. Many of my corporate clients who work for large organizations report the same challenges. In a quick poll I took, they reported having fewer people on staff and increased workloads as the main reasons.
So…how do you get that much needed time off?
I have found a few ways. First, take shorter breaks- a long weekend as opposed to a full week. It’s amazing what a few days away will do for you especially if you get a real change of scenery. Next, try to schedule vacation outside of summer when your staff is running lean. Finally, just force yourself to get away. If you don’t, you’ll be asking “What summer?” well into the fall.
By the way fall is a lovely time of year and most vacation spots are a lot less crowded and less expensive.