By Diane M. Calabrese / Published February 2022
Vacation has something of a foreign ring to business owners in 2021. The contemporary meaning of a period free from the activity of work has been devoured by the hours required to cope with too few employees and many additional layers of compliance. Yet the first meaning of vacation was a respite or intermission. It referred to a period of rejuvenation.
There’s renewed energy to be found when the mind and body are refreshed. That energy proves very useful when moving through a hectic, compressed interval of work.
Today, with the prevailing business climate being more like one sustained crush—as opposed to a rush here and there—taking that respite to rejuvenate has become more important than ever. And owners must take it when they can.
“A small business such as ours is often a one- or two-person operation,” says Chris Watson, owner WNC Pressure Washing in Waynesville, NC. “Taking time off can be difficult.” But giving up the respite is not an option. Watson explains that owners should acknowledge the difficulty and move to transcend it.
“I would argue that having a plan in place to ensure you take enough time away from your business is vital,” says Watson. “In the early days of starting our pressure washing business, we worked long hours to get our company up and running.”
The experience with long hours allowed Watson to incorporate ways to take a break—a short one—even in the busiest intervals. “So, what we have done during the busy part of our season is to plan hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway, take small weekend getaway trips to Atlanta or Charlotte, or relax with friends and family,” he says.
“During the cold months when we cannot work outside, we plan longer trips to places like Europe,” says Watson. “We find that these long trips are what is needed to rejuvenate us.”
Watson says that putting day-to-day parameters on business versus personal life also significantly helps with renewal. “As a small business we find it hard to get away from talking about softwashing, for example, but we set a few rules that work for us by not talking about any business—unless it’s an emergency—after dinner. We typically get lost in comedy sitcom shows. We have also found success in having an exercise routine.”
Travel, recreation, exercise, and entertainment. The ways that Watson finds renewal are familiar to us all. Of course, the key, as he points out, is to be sure to make the time to engage in the diversion.
John Tornabene, owner of Clean County Powerwashing in Kings Park, NY, shares some advice that altered his approach to carving out time to replenish. “Years ago, my cousin who owns a sand blasting company told me to stop running my business out of my house because then you are literally taking your work home with you 24/7.”
The advice is sound, says Tornabene. “Over the last several years, we have been running our company out of our office attached to our warehouse, which is 15 minutes away from our home. Now when I leave the shop, I go home and relax a lot more.”
Working out of a base in the Empire State, Tornabene’s company deals with true winter conditions. Thus, winter affords a natural period for a break.
“We pretty much stay busy until the second week of January, and then it’s off to our winter home in Estero, FL, until the second week of March,” explains Tornabene. “The only thing I have planned that is business related that time of year is teaching a parking garage class January 20 in the Florida Panhandle. We also have dinner with Joe Walters and his wife, Jan, every year because they reside nearby with a home five minutes from ours.”
Ray Burke, Tallahassee operations manager of Krystal Klean in Tallahassee, FL, recalls a solid suggestion. (And he wishes he had taken it.)
“What was recommended to me was the incredible advice from my dad, and it was basically, ‘Son, we should go fishing,’” explains Burke. “Mom and dad lived on the lake about 80 miles north of me, so it would be just a short drive to go up and spend an afternoon with him.”
Sometimes Burke did go fishing, but… “Sadly, I didn’t take him up on that advice nearly enough. I was trying to build a business and lost my father to Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago,” he says. “I still carry major regret and anger at myself for not going fishing with him more often. After his passing I realized how short life was and started taking more time off.”
Seize the day. Carpe diem. Life is about balance. And to achieve the balance, a little distance might be what’s required.
“My wife and business partner, Tonya, and I love to travel,” says Burke. “And we found the best way for us to enjoy downtime is to get out of town. It might be an overnight trip to the beach or three or four days in the mountains, but we have found that rejuvenation is best for us when we physically remove ourselves out of the area.”
Burke expresses a dilemma that derives from the commitment owners have to their businesses. Owners find it difficult to disengage because they want the business to thrive.
“We have very little self-control when it comes to our business, so if we try to take some time off in town, something will usually come up and we’ll feel duty-bound to go into the office or the shop and handle the situation. Quite frankly, we should have the self-discipline to allow the managers to handle these issues,” explains Burke. And he suggests a way to get around the impulse to be involved non-stop.
“By removing ourselves from the area so we can’t sweat the small stuff, we find we can truly make a vacation a real vacation and not be saddled with worry the whole time,” says Burke. “It’s also important to trust your employees to make the right decisions, which also means trusting yourself that you have trained them properly.”
Find a way to take a break. That’s the advice from medical experts, sociologists, corporate organizers—pretty much everyone.
Relax and detach from work. Well-being improves. That’s the short of it.
There’s an oft-repeated phrase by someone confronting a lot of pressure that goes like this: “I’ve got to clear my brain.” Even a short break from work, such as a walk at lunch, refreshes and brings renewed clarity.
In fact, many experts on how to rejuvenate like the idea of short breaks, especially when they are tied to some physical activity. In May 2021, the CDC published a 23-page guide titled Physical Activity Breaks for the Workplace, which is available for copying in pdf format. Find it at the CDC.gov website.
Straight up, anyone consulting the document will note there’s a bit of silliness in the content. Let’s call it whimsy. (The pantomime exercises fall into the category.) Still, there’s a great deal of good information and solid ideas about how to rejuvenate.
Some of the sluggishness team members or owners may experience during a very busy period is due not to the intensity of the work but to the failure to take a break. The CDC offers guidance on the amount of physical activity we each need during a week-long period, and it’s quite low: 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.
One thing the CDC documents suggest is that whenever the opportunity arises to move (assuming one has a sedentary work-spot), take it. Just a bit of extra physical activity during a workday can breathe new energy into a person.
Okay, most warehouse managers are not going to be receptive to their floors being used for pushups by employees in hardhats and reflective vests (yes, one of the illustrations in the CDC guide), but they might encourage everyone to stretch their backs and arms a bit before the work shift begins. Think ideas, not template, when consulting the guide.
As for the dimension of severing a tie to work in a way that would constitute a vacation, be sure to prepare. As Burke says, having a well-trained and trusted team makes it possible.
Before embarking on an extended time away, an owner should offer more immediate and relevant preparation to team members. That includes ascertaining they know the boundaries of their authority in an owner’s absence.
As Tornabene says, combining a break with the least busy time of year makes it doable. And as Watson explains, plan so that it will be possible.
And when a break of a few days is not in the offing soon? Commit to taking 10 minutes a day to refresh.
If it’s not possible to go fishing, go outside and watch the birds or the squirrels. Take in the enormity of the world beyond the boundaries of a business. Rejuvenate.