Want to Empower Employees? Take a Vacation

As a small business executive, you’re working harder than ever to compete with larger organizations, keep your margins high, and maximize your productivity. With more than 50 percent of the working population employed by small businesses, it’s no wonder you’re working so hard.

Employee on vacation

Countless studies, common sense, and your mother agree that taking a well-deserved vacation isn’t just a luxury — it’s a necessity for your health and well-being. Do we really need to tell you this?

Despite the importance of breaks, many small business executives feel that taking a pass on time off is a matter of necessity. Office Depot conducted a survey last summer that revealed that not even two-thirds of small business owners were planning to take a vacation.

You might be surprised to learn that there’s a business case for taking time off. Here are four ways that your business can benefit from your absence:

1. Trust increases when you’re willing to give up control

If you don’t feel like you can leave for extended periods of time, you may be sending the message that you either don’t trust your team members or feel that they’re incapable, impaired, or not ready.

The problem that many leaders have is an issue with control akin to that of new parents. While your company might be your baby, you have to learn to leave it in the care of your capable team members. Going on regular vacations is a great way to demonstrate your sincere trust in employees.

Bill Hahlbohm, a trailblazer in the organic produce industry and the owner of Sundance Organics, has been taking vacations from his operations for 40 years. He told me, “I never have anxiety about leaving the business behind. I have a very, very high level of trust for the people who work for me. In many cases, they know the business better than I do.”

He noted, “If you have to control everything in your business, you’ll never get anywhere. You need a team you can trust who can run — and grow — your operation while you’re gone.”

2. Development opportunities emerge

Short-term projects or periods of increased responsibility are perfect ways to test an employee’s abilities without having to make the permanent commitment of a promotion.

But this kind of stretch opportunity — when people are able to move into new positions and take on new responsibilities — is almost impossible to afford others while you’re lingering on the sidelines. When the manager or leader is gone, the person stepping into a new role faces real challenges and finds satisfaction and newfound confidence in using his or her skills and talents to solve them.

Often, your second-in-command has become comfortable being No. 2. Your right-hand person will demonstrate great leadership in your absence because he or she needs to.

Company meeting

3. A healthy culture is built

Over the years, many smart people have defined corporate culture. My favorite commonsense explanation is this one: “It’s the way we do things around here.”

Every team member contributes in some way to your organization’s culture. Prevailing corporate culture begins at the top. That means whether you intend to or not, you’re creating company culture through your actions and behaviors. If you’re not taking time off, you’re sending a message that — despite company policy — going on vacation isn’t OK.

Workaholic cultures demean and devalue people. They operate under the assumption that people are a consumable resource for the never-satisfied machine of productivity. Resentful, stressed-out employees make up for it in many ways: through absenteeism, doing the bare minimum, a lack of passion, or simply voting themselves off the island.

In contrast, building a culture that demonstrates its value for people — and honors their need for time away — is a particularly important consideration for small businesses. Studies show that a healthy culture increases employees’ commitment and productivity, while an unhealthy culture may inhibit a company’s growth or even contribute to business failure.

4. Freedom and innovation increase

As a small business leader, you’re probably accustomed to being the accelerator on every project, the one with the vision and the know-how to get there. But there will come a time when you’ll have to ask yourself, “Does my style of doing things — or does my physical presence — get in the way of our growth?”

You have hired loyal, reliable, and technically skilled team members. Remove the shackles, and let them do their jobs. Chances are that your team will be ready to assume responsibility and work hard to live up to your high expectations.

As the boss, when you see someone getting there a different way, it can be hard not to interject your opinion. Remember that it’s the outcome of the work that matters.

Go on that vacation! It’s what you’ve worked for. And give others a chance to raise their game. Taking regular breaks from the office not only keeps you rested and functioning at your best, but it also makes your business stronger. Make plans to spend quality time with your loved ones somewhere beautiful, and remind yourself how great it is to have a capable and trustworthy team.


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