Unlimited Time Off From Your Business

The second “rule” on our downloadable poster “Your Rights and Obligations as a Business Owner” is:

You have the right to unlimited time off with pay.” followed by the corollary obligation; “You have an unlimited obligation to customers. Business deadlines and schedules have priority over your personal life.”

In my “Where’s Waldo” post a couple of weeks ago I discussed the impact ( or lack of it) resulting from an owner who comes and goes at changeable hours during the day. If you didn’t read it, the reality is that most employees don’t know where you are when you are out of the office, and aren’t really that concerned about it.

The number of hours an owner works in a day or week are often influenced by what he or she thinks the employees will think. The same isn’t true for vacations. Employees earn vacations and take them. They expect the boss will do the same. In the absence of any morale impact, why then are so many owners reluctant to take more than a few days away from the business?

They are afraid that the business will fail without their constant attention.

A huge majority of the entrepreneurs whom I coach list “more time away from the business” as a top goal. Many haven’t had a vacation longer than a 4 day weekend in years. A few take a week with family annually. Very few take two weeks at a time.

In a start up business the owner is usually the primary revenue generator. If the owner goes away, the income goes away. That isn’t what I am discussing.

I’m talking about companies with ten, thirty or even 100 employees where the boss is chained to the business all year. There are clearly people to do the work of the business. Sales will continue, invoices will be sent, money collected. Why then, is the owner unable to leave?

The rationalizations vary, but they fall within a narrow range. “I don’t have anyone who can price orders like I can.” “I’m the only one who can deal with the difficult customers.” “They won’t watch our quality as closely as I do.”

It all comes down to the same thing. “I don’t trust my employees to make important decisions.” Why is that? Probably because they don’t have to. You are there all the time, and there is no risk for them in letting you make all the decisions.

Training employees to make decisions comes with some risk. They will make mistakes. In “The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey” (Blanchard, Oncken & Burrows, 1991) there is an excellent rule of thumb for delegating decision-making authority. If the risk is small, the employee should decide, and then tell you what was done. If the risk is large, the employee decides, but checks with you before implementing. Using this simple approach trains the employee to make decisions, while keeping the risk of a bad call within reasonable boundaries.

I feel badly for the business owners who’ve never had the joy of hearing an employee make a good decision. The effect is like a narcotic. Once you realize that they can do it, you have only one problem left to overcome. That is the personal security of knowing that they need you to make all the decisions.

Here is a news flash. You own the company. You can still make decisions whenever you choose. But you can also take a real vacation.


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One Response to Unlimited Time Off From Your Business

  1. I had a discussion with a restaurant owner last week; he has just a few employees. But I found it fascinating that he is able to take reasonable vacations with his family. His philosophy is, “I put my faith in God, and if the place doesn’t burn down while I’m gone, then it’s OK.”

    A little humorous, sure, but it shows that he treats vacations as important. And he does a fairly good job of preparing people to run the business while he’s gone.

    I also find it fascinating how he incorporates his faith into this decision. It’s not like he publicizes this as a Christian business or anything – but his spirituality is a natural part of how he makes decisions.

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