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Time out for small business owners: How you can plan and enjoy vacation away from your business

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Small business owners seldom take a day off, but like the rest of us, they need time to unwind. According to a 2016 Funding Circle survey, about half of small business owners plan to take less than three days off during the entire holiday season; in fact, nearly 70 percent confess that they at least check emails on Thanksgiving Day, when most businesses nationally close.

We’re a culture of self-prescribed “work martyrs,” encumbered by the idea that no one could do our jobs while we’re away. For small business owners, in particular, high stress, guilt, and workload concerns keep them from unplugging—or leaving the office at all.

However, research shows vacations are incredibly valuable benefit. Taking time away from your business can help you refocus your ambitions and create a culture of trust in their staff--which boosts overall workplace morale.

“The ability to chart your own course, doing something you enjoy day in and day out, is a significant benefit to business ownership,” says Kristie Arslan, entrepreneur-in-residence at the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. Arslan is also the owner of Popped! Republic Gourmet Popcorn in Alexandria, VA. “But it is also very easy for business owners to put themselves last on the list, because when you run a small business, you are the CEO, CFO, head of marketing, the HR manager, and oftentimes, the janitor, as well. It can be disconcerting to think of taking time away and often a point of high anxiety for entrepreneurs worried about entrusting their business to staff or missing out on revenue generating opportunities.” 

Small business owners are the sum total of their operations. But Arslan says that’s why it’s even more important for them to unplug and recharge.

“Have faith that one week or two weeks off from your business will not lead to you having to close your doors,” Arslan says. “If you plan accordingly, you can come back in a better frame of mind to be more successful at managing and growing your business.”

5 Tips for Getting Away

1. Layer Your Calendars

Layer your calendars to find any open opportunities and block those days to avoid meeting invites.

2. Make a Coverage Plan

Assign employees to cover for you and make sure they’re aware of their duties ahead of time.
 
3. Put up an Out-of-Office Notice

Make sure to put an auto-reply to emails in place that defers people to those covering for you.
 
4. Cross-Train Employees

Consider training your employees in all aspects of the business early on, so more of them can rise to the occasion in the event that you or someone on your staff needs coverage.

5. Trust Your Staff

Putting faith in your employees builds workplace morale, which will help your business thrive in the long run.

Arslan notes that when she and her husband opened their gourmet popcorn company in May 2012, they, too, were wary of leaving their staff to manage operations without them.

“We had all the same apprehensions that many business owners have: Can we trust the employees yet, or will we lose revenue, or will there be a major issue that only we can address?” she explains. “We finally realized that we had to delegate and give our employees a chance to take leadership roles and help us gain more balance in our lives. Planning ahead with prepping employees and ensuring customer orders would be completed helped mitigate some of the concern.”

More than half of American workers who’ve set aside time each year to plan out their vacation days take all of their time off, compared to just 40 percent of those who don’t take the time to prepare, according to Project: Time Off, a campaign that highlights the implications of being “under-vacationed.”

Planners even end up with longer vacations; while three-in-four planners take a week or more at a time, non-planners take just up to three days off, if any at all.

“The people who plan are also happier in every single category we measure—from their relationships, health and well-being to their companies and their jobs,” adds Katie Dennis, chief of research and strategy for Project: Time Off. “That said, it’s really hard to plan.”

Dennis notes that planning involves managing one’s work calendar, everyone’s issues at the office, a spouse, children’s school calendars, and myriad other things. “It can be really challenging, but the benefits are massive.”

Dennis says the most important thing to remember is to start earlier, so your managers aren’t forced to say no. Even if you find yourself checking emails over Thanksgiving, you can start planning your summer vacation during the winter months, so you can actually unplug.

The first step, she says, is to start layering your calendars. Open up the calendars you need to coordinate and layer them over each other. Then figure out where your opportunities are and block your calendar so colleagues don’t send you constant meeting invites, she says.

“Then, talk to the people you work with, not only about your plans but also about theirs,” she explains. “When you create a culture of openness, you’ve got a much more likely chance of them saying, ‘I can help you with this,’ or ‘I can pick up the slack here.’”

Plan who can cover for you, make that person aware that they’re covering for you, and make sure to put up an out-of-office notice that defers to that person.

After you’ve got an adequate coverage plan in place, start doing the extra work you can do ahead of your vacation so you can enjoy your time while you’re away.

“It’s easy to take the office with you—not everyone likes unplugging, but set boundaries that you’re willing to put around your time,” Dennis says. “If it’s ‘OK, I’m going to check in once in the morning and once in the afternoon,’ tell your team and tell who you’re with because they don’t want you disappearing on them either.”

Dennis suggests cross-training employees so they’re aware of what their coworkers do, which not only creates a culture of openness, but also proves beneficial in the event that someone needs coverage.

“On top of that, it’s a really great vote of confidence for your employees,” she says. “When you look at what makes an engaged employee, they want to feel trusted, valued and appreciated, and is there a better way to do that than saying, ‘I trust you to do this while I’m away?’ People are going to rise to that occasion.”

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