Fun in the sun? Not for many small business owners

August 13, 2014, 11:38 PM UTC
Business people talking in meeting
Business people talking in meeting
John Wildgoose—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Small business owners simply aren’t taking vacation in 2014, at least according to one study. In fact, almost half of the people polled—200 in all, from a variety of industries—said they’re not planning to go on one this year.

The study, released Wednesday and conducted by the lender OnDeck, revealed that small business owners are too time-strapped to take any vacation at all, let alone a proper one. Of the small business owners who do take time off, the majority—61%—grab just five days off per year. That’s half of what the average U.S. employee takes each year, according to the study.

Adding insult to injury, when a small business owner actually takes a vacation, it’s hard for them to completely detach from day-to-day operations. According to the study, 67% of owners “check in with work at least once per day.” Just 15% completely disconnect.

Melinda Emerson, a small business owner who has lectured about the subject at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and around the U.S., said that entrepreneurs and small business owners have a tendency to be workaholics who are on the job “14 to 16 hours a day, six to seven days a week.” It can be hard to detach, she added.

The bigger the business, the better the chance that an owner will take a vacation. Sixty-three percent of owners of companies between six and 10 employees take one, but only 42% of people who are self-employed share the habit, according to the study.

“We’ve always known that small businesses don’t have the same resources that big businesses do, a major gap that makes small business owners’ time so valuable,” said Andrea Gellert, OnDeck’s senior vice president of marketing.

She added that quality vacations are hard to come by since owners “have to wear many hats” since they lack access to the resources that big businesses enjoy. “Any free time is often spent on necessary but secondary work like taxes, healthcare, searching for financing,” she said.

Though the statistics aren’t surprising, Emerson noted that there is a distinct lack of empirical data about small business owners and vacation. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics wasn’t able to provide any additional figures on small business owners taking vacation.) But anecdotal evidence reveals that small business owners often “haven’t built processes” to leave their job, for even just a day, to rejuvenate. Small businesses tend to have a “cult of personalities around” the owners, she said, meaning clients “will only talk to them.” And too often, small business owners fail to empower their employees to run the business in their absence, she said.

“It’s a good thing to give their mind an opportunity to rest,” Emerson said. “Vacation is important.” Gellert agreed. “[Owners must] try and find time to get a way—even if it’s just for a few days. It can actually be a good time to reflect and reset business strategy.”