An entrepreneur’s guide to stress-free holidays
by Annemarie Robson
Switching off (and not just the smartphone) and taking time out from running a business can be a challenge for many entrepreneurs.
Here’s how you can make it happen.
Our brains are effectively living computers – they also need to be ‘rebooted’ on a regular basis to allow them to operate at maximum capacity. Studies have shown that stress and lack of sleep can significantly affect a brain’s capacity to operate – the two things you are certain to experience at some time whilst running a business! So, whilst taking a break isn’t just good for one’s brain health, for some it can also boost performance and productivity – and generally allow ‘clear thinking time’.
Entrepreneurs and owner-managers are essential to their business, so holidays may not be on the ‘to-do’ list. Most take it for granted that they won’t get a break for a year or so after setting up a new business, especially if all available funds are poured into the business.
As a business owner you will know which times of year are your busiest and when it is usually quietest – for many, Ramadan is a good opportunity for a well-deserved rest.
If you are still a one man/woman operation at the start of a new business, and don’t yet have a team to step in and take the reins, getting away takes much more planning and forethought. But it shouldn’t stop you taking a break. Clients should realise that everyone needs ‘down time’ to be able to offer 100% commitment at all other times throughout the year. Otherwise there is a chance that you could experience ‘burn out’.
If your business is small with very tight margins, paid holidays may not be possible until the business grows, but discussing the possibility of offering unpaid holidays – some staff may still feel the need to take a break, for a few days at least.
If you have lots of staff, advance planning for holidays should take place early on in the year to ensure that everyone feels happy and knows any specific days/weeks that should be avoided. Explain when extra cover might be required with at least one senior member of staff available any breaks you may take.
If you have one, trust your team
If you are going to be away from the office for any extended period, you must be able to trust that employees and partners will be able to hold the fort in a responsible manner. If the answer to this is ‘no’, this might indicate that your business isn’t yet stable enough to cope with an absence, and more importantly you need to start looking for someone reliable and trustworthy to employ!
The most successful entrepreneurs delegate responsibility to their team. This in turn empowers the team to drive the business forward throughout the year, not just during holiday season. If this works for you, this should mean that you can effectively turn off your phone when you need to, BUT your team will know that if an emergency occurs they can call – even if it is simply to leave a message requesting advice on how to proceed.
When planning any prolonged absence, communication is key – let your team know the details of your absence. Responsibilities usually handled specifically by you as owner-manager (such as certain key clients) should also be delegated and a clear agreement about what can and cannot be done with the client in your absence – it may be restricted to just monitoring emails or go as far as having meetings. With many of my contacts, I tend to let them know my planned absences well in advance; I tell them the dates I’ll be away, and provide details of who they can turn to or contact in my absence if they have queries.
Using technology to your advantage
Mobile technology means we can all work away from the office – but as most of us are connected to our smartphones virtually 24/7, this isn’t really the healthy option and can defeat the object of ‘holiday’. To achieve the right balance – and so as not to annoy your family – decide either to tell your team that they may call at a certain time on each day only if there is an ongoing problem, or that you will only check your smartphone every couple of days for a small period of time, say 30 minutes, and only respond via email if ultra-urgent. Avoid spending hours answering emails and becoming involved in protracted conversations – this will not only ruin your holiday, but also that of your travelling companions.
Most of my clients are extremely accommodating and it is very rare that I need to answer emails whilst on holiday. In fact, I now refuse to holiday with more than my tablet to enable me to check the world news or research my next location; whilst this means I have no access to my client files, I feel very comfortable with this and know I need the break. The best feeling in the world is to be in an area without mobile reception – the amount of times I’ve found myself in the most amazingly remote locations with mind blowing vistas and have heard people complaining that they can’t ring their workplace still amazes me. Get over it – forget the office and enjoy the moment.
Creating a culture of productivity
As owner of your business, you are looked upon as a role model – the way you behave and approach work sets the tone for your entire office. In one of my first jobs out of university, my boss was truly entrepreneurial and taught me that getting away from the office not only allows you to bond with your team but also allows free thinking and innovative ideas. One memorable trip from the office meant an afternoon windsurfing at a local lake! I still look back on that first job fondly as offering exciting experiences as part of a great team.
Creating the right culture can only come from the top. If you are relentless in your work, answering emails at all hours of the night, those working for you feel under pressure to show willing and this can impact upon their attitude to working with you. Another manager I had ten years ago worked ridiculous hours and almost never took a break – she was extremely driven, but in doing so drove our small team to distraction and we dreaded her arrival each day as she was verging on the ‘maniac slave-driver’. Instead of inspiring us, she de-motivated and alienated our team.
For productivity, motivation and morale, business owners should not only make sure they take a break from time-to-time, but they should ensure it’s part of their company’s culture to do so and ensure all team members have time to rest and schedule a break. It will show results.
Trust goes a long way
Instead of jumping in at the deep end by taking a fortnight’s absence, try a shorter trip to see how your team copes in your absence. This will help you build up trust and you can then progress to a longer stint away from the office. For some entrepreneurs a weekend off might be enough to fully recharge the batteries; for others, me included, regular stints (of at least a week) away from work are required to keep the brain ticking over and the energy levels high.
The important thing is for the break to feel like a proper rest.