Autumn blues for bosses after holidays interrupted

2005

The vast majority of small business bosses will have returned from their summer break hardly feeling they have been away at all because their holiday was so interrupted by work, a study has suggested.

And the finding is a symptom of the wider difficulties many owner/managers face when it comes to delegating work, experts have warned.

The survey by Microsoft and networking organisation Ecademy has found more than two thirds of small business owners and managers in the UK – 69 per cent – had worked while on holiday.

Three quarters of these said they took up to an hour a day out of their holiday to deal with work issues.

Small business bosses often found it hard to demarcate home and work life at the best of times, and being on holiday was no exception, suggested Dinah Bennett, senior tutor at Durham Business School and a winner of the Queen's Award for Enterprise Promotion.

"Your business can be your passion and switching off can be far more difficult than you might think, you will often feel that no one can run your business as well as you can," she said.

The survey found that nearly half – 45 per cent – said they were unable to relax properly and 34 per cent, perhaps unsurprisingly, found their family had resented the intrusion.

New technology, supposedly designed to give us all more free time, was often the bane of the family holiday, with employees unable to free themselves from the lure of their email, mobile phone or Blackberry.

Nearly all the 750 people polled checked their email, 70 per cent said they checked their voicemail, more than half called clients, customers and colleagues and half even went so far as to write documents.

More than a third said their main reason for working on holiday was because nobody else could cover their job effectively, while a quarter were worried that something might go wrong while they were away.

The key, argued Bennett, was simply recruiting people that you trusted to run the business in your absence and, in particular, having people on board that you had confidence in.

"Most successful owner/managers will employ people who they know can run the business in their absence," she said.

John Coulthard, director of small business for Microsoft UK, added that, while he recognised it could be hard to get away from work completely, failing to do so was bad for a business' long-term productivity.

"If employees aren't taking their full holiday entitlement or are finding they feel pressured to work during their holiday, their long-term productivity is going to be affected, which may essentially damage the long-term prospects of the business," he said.

"The latest mobile technologies shouldn't force you to work on holiday but, if you need to, they can help you do it in the most efficient way possible. It's important to remember that you control the technology, not the other way around," he added.

The survey adds to growing evidence of an inability of British workers to take their full holiday entitlement, or relax when they do so.

In July a study by the Chartered Management Institute found that, although two-thirds of managers now enjoyed at least five weeks' holiday entitlement, most admitted to working during their annual leave and almost a third were just too wedded to the office to take all the time off on offer to them.

And even those that do get away often return to crushing mountain of work, a survey by recruitment agency Manpower reported in August.

Its survey of 1,800 people found 43 per cent returned from holiday to find their colleagues had left work to pile up while they were away.

And, much as in the Microsoft survey, many (in this case seven per cent) said they had been regularly contacted by their work while on holiday.