Two weeks’ holiday on a palm-fringed beach looks out of reach for most of this year, thanks to a confusing patchwork of travel restrictions and changing rules.
For many of Britain’s business owners, though, even a week switching off by the seaside in Broadstairs might feel like a pipedream.
‘It’s rare I’ve been on holiday and not checked in with my business. When I say rare, I mean like rocking horse poo,’ says NLP practitioner Sarah Knight, who runs training and leadership academy Mind The Gap.
‘There is no such thing as a work/life balance. Especially when you run a business.’
New figures from accountancy firm Azets back up Sarah’s experience that it’s hard to switch off. More than a third of the firm’s small business clients say that they have a poor work/life balance, with 30% saying they spend more than 13 hours a day working on or thinking about their business.
Michelle Ovens, who runs Small Business Britain, says that the problem has been exacerbated by Covid this year, with more entrepreneurs than ever feeling they cannot take a summer break because they’ve already faced stressful shutdowns.
‘As much as taking a break is always really important for recovery, enhancing productivity and protecting mental health, many small businesses won’t realistically feel they can do so now,’ she says.
‘The seasonal nature of work and rest has been even more thrown out of the window this year, more than it usually is for small businesses.
‘Many will also be feeling the pressure to get their business back on its feet, especially as a lot of support is coming to an end — such as the end of furlough, rates holidays and Bounce Back Loan payments becoming due.
‘This is alongside often needing to manage supply chains and staffing shortages during the “pingdemic”.’
Are holidays important?
Given the difficulties, it is tempting to think that the best thing to do is work through your holiday time, but studies show that not taking holiday entitlement can hurt productivity.
One study, from Alertness Solutions, found that taking a holiday can increase performance by 80% and reaction times by 40%.
‘It’s absolutely critical to take time out,’ says Simon Paine, who runs Rebel Business School.
‘If you’re anything like me, the last 18 months have blurred the lines between home life and work life. We’ve been so focused on the challenges in the business that taking a break has been at the bottom of the list.’
Business owners agree that holidays are a crucial part of success. Rhian Thomas runs baby clothes company Bibivie and says that she finds time off with the family ‘essential for resetting and getting my head out of the day to day of running the business’.
‘I have been sat on a beach in Wales today and dreamed up a few new collection ideas — that’s the power of having a bit of brain space,’ she says. Suzanne Samaka, who runs body image campaign #honestaboutediting, describes holidays as ‘a bit like putting your oxygen mask on yourself first on a plane’.
‘Life and especially campaigning doesn’t stop but a holiday is important to ensure your work is sustainable,’ she explains.
When breaks don’t seem possible
But if holidays are vital for mental health and productivity, what happens when business owners don’t feel able to take them?
Some entrepreneurs swear by taking their work with them on holiday, others have had to learn to delegate, while others are simply waiting until life gets less busy.
Taking work on holiday
Many entrepreneurs feel their only chance of a break is simply to take the work with them and do it in different surroundings.
Gabrielle Cave, who has just started luxury pyjama brand Orchard Moon, is holidaying close to home this year so she can rush back if necessary.
‘It’s perfect because if we get any orders I can just drive back up to London midweek to pack the orders while my OH stays with the kids on the coast. I’ll be back before the end of the day!’ she says.
Accountant Cheryl Sharp, who runs Pink Pig Financials, says that she’ll still have to run the furlough payments for her clients while she’s away on holiday.
‘I’m the only one who knows how to do it,’ she explains. ‘It will be really hard to switch off — I’m trying to focus on the fact that at least I’ll be working in the sun!’
Josie Dom, who runs book brands Animalympics and Lum, scheduled a special event online before the family decided to go on holiday.
‘I’ve been working early mornings in the caravan awning while my family sleep,’ she says.
Not everyone agrees that this form of ‘half holiday/half work’ is beneficial for mental health, though.
‘I’ve tried having a “half holiday” but it’s like being half pregnant — it’s not possible,’ says videographer Aina Gomez Piza, who runs the Family Memento company.
‘I can’t turn work down after my business has been shut for so long, but at the same time I’m mentally exhausted. I will hopefully take a break over Christmas or maybe a short break in October or November.’
Case study: ‘I locked my phone in a box on holiday’
Eniye Okah runs Blob Box, a self-care period subscription box. When she took her first holiday since starting the business, she had an innovative way to force herself not to look at the phone.
‘I got one of those time capsule containers to lock my phone away,’ she explains.
‘I actually found the capsule on a TikTok last year in lockdown and thought it was a great idea as I struggle to put away my phone at times, so I thought it would be good to bring on holiday with me in case I couldn’t step away from my business phone.’
Eniye also left her work laptop at home and switched off business notifications. ‘I also had all social media posts planned and scheduled,’ she explains.
Eniye says that locking her phone away made her feel anxious at times, but she still managed to put the phone in the box for a week, with it unlocking when the time expired.
‘I was worried about missing any opportunities and as a small business this is something that will always cross your mind. I had an out of office so anyone who emailed knew I was away so that probably kept me going.
‘I would receive notifications which I could see and it drove me insane sometimes that I couldn’t respond to them!’
But leaving the business behind completely still proved a little difficult. ‘When I was away I always struggled to switch off and my partner actually had to beg me to talk about something else besides my business!’ she says.
Those who employ staff say that learning to delegate can help with going away, and urge those who do not to consider creative solutions.
Caroline Marshall runs virtual assistant group Upsource, which offers flexible support for businesses.
‘I am very pro switching off and taking holidays, I manage to do this as I hand over runnings to my team — but I also encourage other business owners to switch off and take holidays through outsourcing to VAs,’ she says.
Jen Parker runs publishing services group Fuzzy Flamingo and says that she used members of the Facebook group she runs to keep things going while she was away.
‘I had a holiday a couple of weeks ago and planned to have a complete break, scheduling all my work to pause for a week, including social media,’ she explains.
‘I have someone to help me with my business pages anyway, but for the Facebook group I invited members to put themselves forward for ‘takeover’ days. They worked really well and it meant my engagement rates didn’t drop. It has also made me consider running these regularly because it made the group more interesting!
‘The complete break was the first I’d taken since starting my business in 2017 because although I have taken holidays I’ve still done social media while off. This was amazing for my mental health, and I felt so much more refreshed when I got back.’
Shutting up completely
Some business owners are taking the brave step of shutting altogether, though warn that this takes preparation in advance.
‘I’m shutting up my online shop next week for my holidays with my family ,’ says Louise Reed, who runs gender-free children’s clothes and toys website Little Nutkins.
‘It’s annoying as I’ll miss a week of sales, but as I work by myself I have no other choice. I try to do it at least two times a year. Usually in February and August, which are quieter times for us.’
Nicola Duty, who runs the Gingerbread Tea House cafe in Widnes, says that, as the only cook, she has no choice but to close if she wants a break.
‘Normally I will work six days per week so a few days off will be more than welcome.’
Meanwhile, Karen Webber, who runs Goodness Marketing, has scheduled social media in advance so she can take time off.
‘I’m also pausing my weekly newsletter, which goes against conventional marketing wisdom! And — best of all — I feel zero guilt or angst about it,’ she says.
Whether you choose to take a break this summer or wait until later, it’s important to remember that doing so is part of running a successful business.
Michelle at Small Business Britain says that there is certainly a growing mental health challenge for small businesses which can’t be ignored, but there is also a growing sense of optimism among business owners.
‘We need give them all the support to get there.
‘Then when they get back on their feet, hopefully before the end of the year, many will feel able to take a well-deserved break and make the most of it.’
Have your staff been booking their holidays?
Restrictions caused by Covid have made many employees unwilling to take their paid holiday when they could not travel.
The government amended the Working Time Regulations at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis to allow workers to carry over up to four weeks’ annual leave into the next two holiday years because of difficulties with travelling and leisure pursuits. In addition, those on furlough continued to accrue holiday entitlements.
For business owners, employees with huge amounts of leave accrued can be inconvenient, as it could leave them short-staffed going forward. Stephen Ravenscroft, head of employment law at Memery Crystal, says that the first step for business owners in this instance is to check contracts, particularly if they would like the holiday used at a specific time to prevent problems.
‘Provisions relating to the use of holidays on specified dates are normally contained in contracts of employment or employee handbooks — for example, this is often the case for Christmas shutdowns,’ he says.
Despite coronavirus restrictions, Ravenscroft says that employers still have the right to ask employees to take their holidays at specific points, particularly now restrictions have eased.
‘To do so, an employer must give the employee prior notice at least twice the length of the period of leave that the employee is being required to take. For example, if the employer requires the employee to take five days’ leave, it must give at least ten calendar days’ prior notice to the employee,’ he explains.
‘There are some limitations to this rule, in particular where an employee is on sickness absence or family-related leave of absence.’
During lockdown, Stephen says there was ‘some debate’ over whether employees could be forced to take a holiday as they could not leave their own homes where they were working, so the holiday period may not have amounted to having ‘time off’.
‘However, given the easing of restrictions, it is doubtful whether this would now prevent an employer from exercising its right, even if it remains difficult from a practical perspective to travel abroad or book holidays in the UK at this late stage,’ he says.
Case study: ‘My Kickstarter recruits are helping me to take a break’
Andrea Pugh runs sustainable gifting store It Won’t Cost The Earth but found that, as a single mum with a part-time job, it was very time consuming.
‘It takes up every waking minute! I am also finding it impossible to grow the business and market it to its best potential as there quite simply aren’t enough hours in the day,’ she explains.
Her solution has been to hire new recruits using the Kickstarter scheme run by the government, designed to give young people without employment a hand up, with the government paying wages and NI in return for training from the business.
‘I was initially sceptical,’ Andrea says. ‘However, with extremely little effort on my part I was granted the three job vacancies I had asked for — one admin assistant, one marketing assistant and one trainee social media manager.
‘So far I am thrilled with my applicants and proud of how quickly they are finding their feet.
‘The first week there were hundreds of questions/queries, a few wobbles and tears but we all seem to be settling into it nicely.’
And having the Kickstarter employees on board has allowed Andrea to relax more during her summer holidays with her children, she says.
‘Knowing I don’t have to have my phone in my hand — posting and interacting on social media — has been wonderful during the school holidays.
‘I’ve regained some form of work/life balance! I feel so much more present for my girls. Now I just need to grow the business enough over the next six months to ensure that I can afford to keep all three of them on my payroll when the six months are over — it will be a big shock otherwise!’
Making space for headspace
Joseph James is a business coach at Money, Mindset & Strategy. Here are his top tips on how business owners can take a break
CHANGE THE LENS
Reframe ‘down time’ as an investment in yourself and your business rather than something that takes away from them.
Runners take recovery days to come back stronger, body builders take downtime to repair and build strength. Giving yourself meaningful down time will allow you to come back stronger and more focused.
SET UP SYSTEMS
Systems will liberate you. When taking down time, it’s important to set up systems ahead of time that will allow you to relax a little more.
Set autoresponders to your email accounts, schedule your social media content to go out automatically, and have a team member check in with clients where necessary.
If you do need to check your email or look over something while on down time, do so between set hours and set expectations up front.
You can tell people on your team or your clients that you will be contactable between certain hours and to anticipate longer reply times.
MANAGE YOUR INNER VOICE
During down time it can be easy to catastrophise things and come up with worst-case scenarios but the reality is, if you set up a few systems and set expectations, you can enjoy downtime and actually use it to come back stronger. You deserve to enjoy yourself.
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