Doctors do it. Police officers manage it. Even the people running the country are preparing for it. But business owners are among the most reluctant individuals to book a holiday in the summer – or at any other time of year. When Members of Parliament are entitled to a recess each summer, why do SME bosses find taking time off so hard? And why does it matter if you believe your company can’t cope without you?
While most people are planning what to pack for their holiday and what factor of sunscreen to buy, too many company owners take the attitude that it’s business as usual and plough on with their work while others play.
- Almost half of SME bosses say they struggle to get away in the summer, according to past research by accountancy software firm Sage.
- Even those who take time off often continue to work, with more than half of managers admitting to reading work-related emails, taking phone calls or even breaking off their holiday to go into the office, the Institute of Leadership and Management has found.
Signs you’re overworking
But, putting in long hours and being umbilically-linked to your work phone are just normal parts of being a business owner, aren’t they? Up to a point. When you have zero sense of work-life balance and are overwhelmed by work-related stress, you’re probably not working productively and could be in danger of burning out altogether. Sage has identified some tell-tale signs you may have shifted from being dedicated and diligent to dangerously overworked:
- You spend more time on social media, such as Twitter, talking to work contacts than having conversations with real friends.
- Your partner and family complain that your work is a constant intrusion on day-to-day life. Be honest, you may even sometimes forget important anniversaries and family occasions.
- You hate to be parted from your laptop and phone in the evenings and on weekends. Even when you’re on holiday, you’re anxious to find a Wi-Fi connection so you can contact the office.
- Your diary is largely full of work commitments, you constantly talk about work at social events and you’ve even given up sports or hobbies you used to enjoy.
- You struggle to switch off, frequently get irritable and have trouble sleeping due to work worries. It’s also not unusual for you to forget to eat lunch.
How to change bad habits
It’s not a pretty picture, is it? And a major reason small business bosses feel they can’t focus on anything other than work is because they fulfil so many functions within their business. Whether it’s dealing with clients, balancing the books, chasing payments or sometimes even clearing up the workplace, the type of personality that’s drawn to business ownership can often be one that finds it hard to hand over control of even mundane tasks to other people.
The simple truth is this kind of controlling attitude is unsustainable and will hold back your enterprise’s development. There’s only so much one person can achieve and you’re probably wasting time on tasks that could be carried out by someone else – and possibly better.
- Learn to delegate. This is the single most useful thing you can teach yourself to free up your time and improve efficiency in your business. If you have employees, hire people with the right skills and don’t micro-manage them. If you’re a one-man-band, outsource admin or accounts to external specialists. If you are working on your own, perhaps it’s time to recruit staff with the experience you need to develop your firm.
- Prioritise tasks. Make a list of things to do and rank them in terms of importance. This should show you if you’re spending too much time on relatively unimportant areas. Set sensible deadlines to improve your productivity.
- Make technology your friend. Apps like Evernote will help you make efficient to-do lists. Harvest, Wrike and Producteev will also help you manage your time more efficiently and track tasks and outcomes. You can create typing shortcuts with software such as Textexpander, Phraseexpress or Active Words. And it’s always sensible to invest in decent accounting software to deal with book-keeping, invoices and accounts.
With some of these digital wonders in place, you should find your time is freed up for more important things and you may feel better able to leave systems running – and employees in control – in your absence.
It’s not the boss who needs a break. Look at your staff and ensure they’re getting the appropriate amount of time off as well. The Working Time Regulations 1998 entitle employees to 28 days’ paid leave annually, including bank holidays. Most business owners don’t need to persuade people to take them. But if you employ individuals who aren’t taking their leave, the rules also allow an employer to force the worker to take their holiday and they can even specify when – though few considerate bosses would want to be so dictatorial.
However, if you can see a member of staff who is stressed and exhausted, but won’t book holiday, or someone who’s proving reluctant to leave their post even temporarily – a possible sign of suspicious behaviour – insist they book some time away. Whether it’s for them to recuperate or for you to do an audit of their work in their absence, it’s an important part of your management job. And be aware, too, that your staff may be taking their cue from you. If you’re seen to overwork and shun holidays, they may fear their job relies on doing the same.
If the Prime Minister can take a break to be with his family, everyone can afford to step away from their work responsibilities for short periods of time. So, enjoy the summer while you can, take some time off from the day-to-day grind and come back rested after your holiday. Chances are, your business will be better for it.