5 Things Business Owners Must Stop Doing On Vacation

Forbes May 20, 2024


5 Things Business Owners Must Stop Doing On Vacation

Summer is just around the corner and millions of Americans are considering vacations, but many are also seeing their calendars fill up and find reasons not to take time off. Some refuse paid time off because it’s too stressful to plan a big getaway. Others are concerned their manager will see them as not being a team player. Still others feel guilty.

Although a working vacation might sound like an ideal compromise, there are barriers there, too. Some remote workers are so keen to take time off that they are taking “hush-cations”—secret getaways to exotic places where they mix business and pleasure unbeknownst to their boss who might disapprove that they’re not working from home. Or the opposite in which the vacationer puts work before vacation, hauling stacks of work along on the trip.

Trouble Disconnecting On Vacation

Business owners are especially prone to have difficulty turning off their jobs and relaxing on vacation, causing significant repercussions to their mental health and professional satisfaction. A study of 600 business owners by Clarity Capital reports that nearly half of all business owners end up working during their supposed breaks. I spoke by email with Nishank Khanna, CMO at Clarify Capital, who told me, “It's startling that four in five business owners can't disconnect from work, even while on vacation. This relentless connectivity may signal dedication, but it blurs the line between commitment and compulsion, ultimately risking burnout."

The research also measured the number of vacation days business owners took against their self-reported overall happiness and productivity. Findings showed that the happiest business owners took off an average of 10 days in the past year. Other key results show that business owners are not able to fully disconnect from work and don’t expect their workforce to totally disconnect, either:

  1. 22% of business owners took no time off in the past year.
  2. 81% check email while out of office.
  3. 49% of business owners handle business tasks while on vacation, ignoring the cry for rest. “Nearly half of business owners would rather push through exhaustion than take a break, highlighting a perilous culture of relentless work over well-being,” Khanna points out. This refusal to pause can stifle creativity and productivity, rather than enhance it."
  4. Six in seven business owners who check emails on vacation still feel burnt out after taking time off.
  5. One in five business owners expects employees to check email while on vacation—even though this expectation runs counter to the “right to disconnect bill,” which is pushing for career-life balance, making it illegal in some states. "The expectation that over 20% of business owners have for their employees to check emails on vacation reflects a pervasive work culture that prioritizes constant availability over the mental health and well-being of the workforce," Khanna states, adding that, “expecting employees to work during vacation is an alarming indicator of the pressures and expectations placed on both leaders and their teams, which may lead to decreased job satisfaction and increased turnover."

Financial concerns, guilt and fear of business failure are barriers to vacations for business owners. A full 72% skip vacations due to financial concerns. Khanna says this trend paints a troubling picture of the entrepreneurial dream—a poignant reminder that financial freedom remains elusive for many at the helm of their own ventures.

One in four owners avoid vacations because of guilt, possibly fueled by perceived responsibilities to business and employees, which underscores the heavy emotional toll of entrepreneurship, Khanna notes.

One in five business owners decline time off due to fear of business failure. This finding showcases the fragility of small businesses in today's economy, according to Khanna, who acknowledges it’s understandable but also underscores the need for stronger support systems and resources for entrepreneurs.

How To Take A Balanced Vacation Instead of a Guilt Trip

If it’s hard for you to relax, if vacations are too stressful or if you feel guilty when you take time off, here are six steps you can take for an enjoyable, well-deserved vacation:

1. Set boundaries. There is something to be said for preventive stress. Limited communication with the office while vacationing can be less stressful than no communication at all and worrying about things piling up. Feeling that you’re getting behind can make you feel out of control and make it harder to chill. Strictly enforced limits on vacations such as an hour a day to check email or make phone calls can help you relax.

2. Manage your devices. The breakneck speed of technology can activate your stress response, provoking a cortisol/dopamine squirt, making you respond to the immediacy of the device as if it were a threat to extinguish. Be master instead of slave to your devices. Use custom ring tones for your family, friends or coworkers when you want to screen calls during off-hours. Ease up on instant messaging so you don’t create the expectation that you’re available 24/7.

3. Buffer work exits and re-entries. Don’t work right up until the moment you leave and head back to work right off the vacation. If possible, schedule an extra day cushion before you depart and another when you return to ease back in.

4. Balance activities. On vacation, alternate your time between staying active and restorative rest. A walk on the beach combined with five minutes of meditation both give you a biochemical boost. Activity raises endorphins. Quieting your mind stimulates the part of your brain that dampens the surges of adrenaline and cortisol accompanying stress.

5. Plan ahead. Choose a colleague you trust to manage day-to-day tasks during your absence and make sure your coworkers know you’ll be away. Designate a point person to be contacted on your voice mail and out-of-office email only on matters you want to be bothered about.

A Final Wake-Up Call

If you deny breaks from work, ask yourself, “What am I doing to my mind and body when I don’t take time off from the job?” and “Why can’t I give myself a break once in a while?” Examine your own tendencies to create stress for yourself and to deprive yourself of healthy self-care. It might lead you to insight and healthy changes. The finding that only 40% of business owners prioritize self-care on vacation is a startling finding, according to Khanna, who suggests that this statistic serves as a wake-up call for the entrepreneurial community, concluding that it’s imperative to balance the demands of business with the necessity of personal well-being.

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