Getting away from it all

When the boss is away, good things can happen
Stacy Innerst Getting away from it all
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“You need a vacation.”

It’s bad enough when we hear it from our family members, worse when our employees feel compelled to tell us, and downright embarrassing when a regular client or customer points it out.

Despite our best efforts, the physical and mental wear and tear of business ownership can take an obvious toll. The benefits of recharging are obvious. It’s amazing what a week or two of sound sleep, leisurely meals, and rekindled hobbies can do. The opportunity to renew relationships with family and friends outside the business is even more valuable. Any employee will tell you that a business owner who comes back from vacation refreshed and in good spirits is a boon to the organization. But aside from the smile on your face, there are some very concrete ways in which a vacation is good not only for you, but also for your business.

Most small businesses don’t have big training programs, “talent pipeline” analysis or even annual reviews, so it’s no wonder that small business employees struggle to see an obvious career progression. This lack of obvious path for advancement is one of the most common reasons employees quit small businesses. A vacation compels you to look to employees to fill various roles you play, and there is a trickle-​down effect to positions lower in the organization. By planning well in advance, the business can identify and train for those roles. The employees benefit from the training, and it’s typically a valuable experience for the trainers, too.

During your absence, employees taking on new roles not only have a chance to try something new, but they also benefit from a fresh perspective. Perhaps they didn’t understand how their role fit into the larger scheme until they filled in during your absence. Maybe they thought they wanted to manage people, but came to realize there are some development steps they need to take before doing so full time.

It’s a great chance for people to bring knowledge and skills acquired elsewhere to bear. How easily we forget that people have had jobs, training and experiences outside of their current position. Ideally, an employee discovers a role that suits him or her and allows your business to capitalize on that strength. Or you realize they are the perfect complement to someone else on the team with a different strength. Even if everyone reverts to their old roles upon your return, the experience and perspective they have gained is invaluable. In fact, don’t be surprised if you find a list of suggested improvements, some of which may already have been implemented, waiting for you.

Even if your time away doesn’t go perfectly smoothly, you can be thankful that weaknesses in the system that had remained hidden have become apparent.

To build a good foundation for your next time away (which unfortunately may not necessarily be planned), it is important that “failures” in your absence be cast as “opportunities.” No one wants to step up in an organization where everyone dreads the boss’s return because it means a public excoriation for everything that went awry in his or her absence.

Any small business owner knows that personal relationships and loyalty are especially important to their success. Such bonds go both ways. Your trusted helpers want to give you the gift of a nice vacation. They want to step up to the plate and “man the fort” while you recharge. Yes, they will benefit from your renewed vim and vigor and the chance to try a new role in your absence, but mostly they want to give you a well-​deserved rest. In return, you should allow them to receive the gift of your trust, which they may value as much as anything.


Lara Bruhn

Lara Bruhn is the owner of Prantl’s Bakery in Pittsburgh and contributes to Pittsburgh Quarterly Magazine with Op-​Ed articles of varying subject matters.

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