A 2011 survey by American Express revealed that fewer than half of U.S. small business owners will take a vacation this summer. 37 % cited that their work schedules would not allow them to take time off. 29 % reported that they were unable to afford a vacation. 16 % stated that they do not take vacations, period. A 2013 study by Staples reported that more than 40 % of small business owners find it difficult to relax and enjoy themselves when they do take a vacation, due to constant concerns about what may be happening to their business while they are away.
Regardless of the habits of American small business owners, research indicates that vacations are more beneficial than they realize and that all those who work would be wise to take time off. Doing so confers benefits to both one’s health and business productivity. The landmark Framingham (MA) Heart Study revealed that women who on average took only one vacation in six years were nearly eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who vacation annually. A 2008 study reported that men who do not take a vacation every year are 32 % more likely to die of a heart attack than men who do vacation every year.
No doubt other factors were involved in bringing on those coronary events, but there is still a demonstrable positive correlation between stepping away from the grind of work and overall health. To function optimally, both the brain and heart like a little rest now and again. Without adequate rest, we descend into fatigue and fatigue makes it difficult for us to think either rationally or creatively and we are less able to make smart decisions.
Peter Handal, CEO of the venerable leadership development company Dale Carnegie strongly recommends that workers take a few days off and do something that they enjoy. A recent study by Intuit found that 82 % of small business owners who took a vacation experienced an increase in performance when they returned to their business. A 2005 study by organizational psychologists Charlotte Fritz of Portland (OR) State University and Sabine Sonnentag of the University of Manheim (Germany) demonstrated the phenomenon of a post-vacation boost in energy reserves that results in greater productivity per hour worked.
The Protestant Work Ethic that the Puritans imposed onto the United States has in many ways done more harm than good. In terms of the number of vacation days and holidays awarded to workers by companies in the industrialized nations, the US ranks dead last. Americans foolishly think that the workaholic is the virtuous, high-producing hero and that the more hours worked, the better. But Henry Ford, who conducted various productivity studies at his Detroit plant for 12 years, learned in the 1920s that worker productivity falls sharply after 40 hours/week. That’s why he reduced his factory worker’s week to 5 days, 40 hours from 6 days, 48 hours.
Research about the optimal length of vacation time off is conflicting, with some researchers advocating for shorter breaks and others recommending 2 weeks or more, as is the standard in Latin America and Europe. Vacations can be difficult for the self-employed, who often have inconsistent income streams. Still, whenever you can, take a few days off when you are not busy and get out of town. Stay with a friend or get a bed from Air BandB. Participate in low-cost activities that you enjoy, whether it’s camping, hiking, going to the beach, attending free outdoor music festivals or visiting museums. Your smart phone will help you keep up with important emails. You are guaranteed to lose a few layers of stress, improve your overall health, increase your productivity and feel better about your self.
On Thursday morning, I will travel to Portland, ME for four days of R & R that will feature a scenic cruise on Casco Bay and lots of lobster!
Thanks for reading,