How to take PTO as a small business owner

One of the best parts about running your own business? Being your own boss and creating your own schedule. What’s better than choosing when you want to work? Vacation time for employers? Piece of cake. 

That is, until suddenly you realize you’ve worked 60 hours this week. You’re working on Thanksgiving. You’re handling a work issue during dinner time. Where’s the time for vacation when you’ve got an entire business to run and you lose sleep worrying about it?

Taking breaks and going on vacation is important—especially as a business owner. If you’re struggling with taking time off, this article will help you identify some reasons why it’s hard to take those much needed breaks, and what you can do to get the rest you need.

Why should small business owners take time off for vacation?

Imagine training for a marathon—but never stopping. What do you think will happen to your body if you keep going without breaks? If you consistently exert yourself without proper breaks, you can hurt yourself. Your body—and your mind—need rest to recover so you can keep performing.

This is the same for work—even if you’re a small business owner. As a business owner, it can be tough to break away from the business you worked so hard to grow, just to take time off for a vacation. We get it. Your business is your baby, and taking time away from your baby is incredibly challenging, especially if you’ve never done it before. 

But just like running a marathon or raising a child, taking some time to rest and recover is incredibly important to a sustainable life. Here are a few reasons why small business owners should take some time away to rest and recover. 

Vacations help maintain your physical and mental health

Taking breaks from work can help lower stress and reduce the risk of physical ailments. Increased amounts of stress for a prolonged period of time can lead to both physical and mental issues, such as high blood pressure or an increased risk of anxiety and depression. 

Vacations are proven to help decrease stress and help maintain your physical health. A Framingham Heart study discovered that vacations can reduce the risk of heart disease. This study also found a positive correlation between more frequent vacations and people living longer, healthier lives.

Vacations encourage healthy habits for your employees

Leading by example is a great way to embody how you want your business to run. If you want your employees to take care of themselves and practice healthy, sustainable work habits, it’s important to show them that you’re willing to practice those habits as well.

Want  to encourage your employees to take vacations? Bake a PTO or vacation time policy into your business policies. Clearly state how your employees can accrue vacation time, and the process for requesting time off.

Taking a vacation as an employer encourages delegation

It’s hard to separate yourself from your business. For many business owners, their business is their entire life. But even if it’s a crucial aspect of your livelihood, finding a balance of rest and work is important to ensure sustainability.

Taking a vacation gives you the opportunity to establish processes so your business can run smoothly, even in your absence. This helps to prepare your business in the event you’re unexpectedly indisposed. Creating processes to help your business run without you can protect your livelihood from an unexpected absence.

Taking time off from your small business provides your team with autonomy

Sure, being able to manage every aspect of your business helps you to feel in control. But your employees may hate this level of micromanagement. It’s important to provide your team with enough independence and autonomy so they can do their job effectively without feeling as if they’re constantly being watched.

Giving your employees more autonomy over their work can help them feel more happy and engaged. Happy employees means a higher retention rate, a more effective team, and more satisfied customers.

How much vacation time is normal for a small business owner?

According to the U.S. Travel Association, the average American takes about 17.4 days of paid time off in one year. In comparison, a study from OnDeck states only 57% of small business owners are planning to take a vacation. Even sadder? They’ll take justfive business days off per year. 

In general, it’s recommended for any working person to take a vacation about once every three months. Depending on the seasonality of your business, this might not be possible. However, this is just a recommendation and you can adjust your schedule accordingly—but make sure to actually unplug and take that vacation.

Why do small business owners not take vacations? 

According to a study conducted by Xero, 55% of small business owners surveyed take two weeks of vacation or less every year. Twelve percent of those respondents don’t take any vacation at all. 

The benefits of a vacation are clear, so why is it so hard for small business owners to take a break? 

Here are a few reasons why a business owner may forgo a vacation. 

1. Strong sense of ownership and responsibility

Small business owners feel a huge amount of ownership and responsibility for their business. Which makes sense—you built it from the ground up! That makes taking a break from your business feel like you’re walking away when it needs you the most. Getting your business to the point where it can function autonomously without your input does take time, and even still, you deserve breaks before it gets to that point. 

It’s important to remember that there’s no deadline when you own your own business. Move at a pace that’s sustainable, and remember that you’re the one who gets to control your hours. 

2. Worries about finances

Many small business owners put everything they have into their business. If the business fails, you fail. Your small business is your livelihood and without it, you have no income. This direct correlation can create a huge strain on your relationship with work as a business owner.

According a survey conducted by Homebase, 59% of small business owners are worried about rising inflation, interest rates, and a looming recession. Having this level of uncertainty can cause a mental drain. The best way to cure that anxiety of the future? By working consistently.

The consequence? Not taking breaks for fear of your business failing. It’s important to make a balance of both—make sure to save enough space for yourself so that your business can succeed without you for a few days at a time. 

3. Lack of resources

Hiring the right people for the amount of work you have is tough. You may have just enough people to manage your team day-to-day when you’re working, but if you take a break, the schedule falls apart. It’s not quite enough work to hire a whole other person, but it does require you to be available at all times. 

When situations like this happen, it can feel impossible to take time off for a break. If this is the case, this is when considering your business seasonality can help you find time for the rest you need.

4. Challenges delegating

“It’s faster for me to do it than to teach someone else to do it.”

“I like doing this task!” 

“Oh, it’s just this one thing, no need to have someone else do it.”

Sound familiar? We’re not surprised. Most small business owners have a tough time delegating their work. Of course, as a business owner, delegating your work is the best way to free up your time. Delegating your work helps you focus on the high priority tasks that need your input. Instead of doing everything yourself, try assigning someone on your team to help pick up some of the more day-to-day aspects of being an owner. 

You don’t have to always be at the cashier or managing inventory—those are things that your employees can do. Consider what tasks are absolutely essential for you to handle, like managing vendor agreements, or working with contractors on a renovation. 

Leave the day to day management to your team. 

Establishing a small business PTO policy for everyone

Offering paid time off is an extremely competitive benefit, and is used to attract high quality talent to your business. Offering PTO for your small business allows your employees to take the time off when they need it, and when it’s convenient for them. Some states even require a certain amount of paid leave per year. Double check your state labor law guide to know what’s required in your specific area.

Providing PTO ensures that all employees–yes, including the owner— are taking vacation time every year. How much time off you offer is dependent on your local laws and how much you want to offer your employees as a benefit. When you’re crafting a paid leave policy, it’s important to understand whether or not you want to bundle different segments of time off, or combine them all into one. For example, you can have different banks of time designated for sick leave or vacation time, or you can just lump it all together into one.

A good PTO policy should have the following:

  • How to request both paid and unpaid time off
  • How time off is accrued
  • How time off rolls over (or doesn’t) 
  • Violations of excessive time off
  • How employees are paid out after leaving the company

7 tips for taking PTO as a small business owner

Taking a break away from your business is challenging. However, it’s much more important to make sure you’re refreshed and rejuvenated, so you can keep your business running longer. 

Here are a few tips you can take as a business owner to get yourself to that well deserved vacation.

1. Start off small

If this is your first time managing a small business, taking a step away seems terrifying. Especially in early days of a business, when finances might be tight. Even if you do have enough funds to take a break, many business owners choose to put that back towards their business.

If you’re having trouble taking a step back, try taking just a small break at first. Start with a half day away unplugging from your business. Make sure that you’re truly unplugging and trusting your team to manage. Once you get more comfortable doing half days, upgrade to a full day. And then again upgrade to maybe a whole weekend. Eventually you’ll be able to take a decent sized vacation without having to worry about your business the entire time. 

Another option to try is to try having a staycation instead of a full vacation involving flights and airfare. Staycations are a good way to start small, and if anything major does happen, you’re still able to pop over and help if needed.

2. Establish clear boundaries around communication

Deciding how much you want to connect with your business while you’re gone is an important boundary to set before you leave on a vacation. Disconnecting from your business entirely may cause more harm than good. If you’re constantly worried and thinking about your business, this can ruin the whole point of a vacation. 

Instead, set a boundary for how often you can check in. Do you want your employees to update you at closing every night? Maybe you’ll sync once every couple of days with your shift lead just to check in. The best option is the one that will allow you to have peace of mind so you can have a rejuvenating break.

Using a team communication tool can help you create a tether of connection to your business while you still get your much needed rest. Your team can reach out to you on your team communication app, and you can check it as little or as often as you’d like.

3. Plan your vacations around your business seasonality

If your small business revolves around any specific seasonality, it’s best to plan your vacation times during your slower periods. For example if you own a small business in a beach town, it might be better to take your vacations in the winter instead of the summer. Consider when you’ll have the most coverage for your absence, and plan it around those times. 

This can get tricky if you’re also trying to balance the schedules of your family, your employees, and the seasonality of your business. At the end of the day, the best time to take a vacation is whenever your business can adequately operate for a short period of time without your management. 

4. Prepare your business for your absence

Scheduling your vacation far in advance can help you prepare both you and your team for any issues that may occur. Set your team up for success by making sure that everything you usually do for your team is already completed by the time you leave. 

The other option is to teach your team how to do the tasks you regularly complete. Leave as much information as possible for your team to handle situations themselves. Should a common issue that you usually handle arise, they can handle it on their own before calling you. 

Homebase’s shift notes feature is a great option to use as another communication tool. It allows you to leave specific instructions, as well as for your team to give you play-by-plays almost in real time.

5. Delegate a point person in your stead

Using this tip in combination with the previous one can help make your business run as if you were there the entire time. Appoint one person on your team to be your designated point person. This should be a trusted individual who knows the ins and outs of your business, or is familiar with the processes you take. 

This point person can be the go-to for any issue that may arise. That way, you’re free to enjoy your vacation without having to worry about what’s happening at your business that day. If it eases your mind, regularly check-in with this person every so often while you’re away. That way you know how everything is going and they can update you with the ongoings of your business.

6. Make your vacation a business trip

Looking to source some new coffee? Ready to learn about new small business technology at a conference in a fun city? Turn a work trip into a vacation. This can be a great way for you to get some fresh new business ideas and learn new things that you can bring back home. While you’re not managing your business in the same capacity as you would if you were home, taking the time to learn new things and expand your business in a different way can help keep your business fresh and attract new customers.

7. Automate and streamline what you can

If you can, take the time to automate some of your day-to-day processes. For example, if you’ve scheduled your vacation far enough in advance and know the team that will be working while you’re out, share those schedules with them early. Using an employee scheduling tool can help you templatize your processes as well. If you know you’re going on vacation, then you already have a skeleton of a schedule available to use.

Make scheduling PTO easier with Homebase

Balancing your team’s schedule doesn’t have to be a scramble every time one person requests time off

Using an employee scheduling tool like Homebase can help you approve or deny time off requests, keep track of the hours accrued, and share a completed schedule with your team as soon as it’s solidified. Try it for free today.

Vacation time for employers FAQ

Why do small business owners not take vacation?

There are a variety of reasons why small business owners may choose not to take a vacation. A few of those reasons include a strong sense of ownership, worries about finances, and challenges delegating tasks out to other employees. No matter how challenging it is for employers to take a vacation, it’s important for them to take breaks, just like any other employee. 

Do business owners pay themselves vacation pay?

Depending on the type of business entity you have, a business owner can pay themselves a salary in the same way they pay their employees. This means that business owners can accrue vacation the same way that your employees can. As long as you have a PTO policy within your company policy, you can pay yourself vacation pay. 

How much vacation time is normal for employees?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of vacation days a full-time employee has varies by how long they’ve worked at your business. On average, full-time employees get 13 days of paid vacation per year. After five years, that number grows to 16 days on average, and grows the longer your employee works for you.

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