HR & Management

A look at the eclectic plans SME bosses have for summer holidays

21 min read

25 July 2017

Former deputy editor

It’s peak season for the summer holidays, but it’s been reported SME leaders don’t know how to take time off – Real Business found out if that’s true.

With the summer holidays upon us, a report from business bank Aldermore found a fifth of British SME bosses failed to take any time off last year, while a third had under five days away from the company.

And for those leaders who did manage to remove themselves from the working environment, a quarter still plough through calls and emails. Even when time off is booked, a fifth have admitted cancelling their getaways.

The bank’s group MD, Carl D’Ammassa, called the findings “worrying”, suggesting that they risk burnout if they don’t take time off and enjoy moments such as the summer holidays.

“It is crucial they take proper breaks to achieve a good work life balance and avoid burn out. Enjoying well-earned time off to recharge their batteries could bring a fresh perspective to their business thinking,” he claimed.

Elsewhere, office design firm Peldon Rose revealed that businesses should be keeping staff motivated as they work during the period of summer holidays or risk losing productivity as the sun beams through the windows.

As the summer holidays are such a hot topic – sorry, couldn’t resist – we rounded up leaders of SMEs to find out how they will spend their time throughout the season.

Neil Westwood holding his red ore

Neil Westwood holding his red ore

(1) Seaside retreat

Neil Westwood, MD of Magic Whiteboard, said: “I used to find it very difficult to switch off. I still don’t relax completely. I find it takes about one week to relax and wind down. I have discovered that you might as well go on summer holidays when everybody else does.

“This year I am going to Cornwall – I have bought a house there to go on holiday and relax throughout the year. I have also started kayaking and paddleboarding. It gives the mind something else to focus on other than work. I have also bought a hot tub which calms me down.”

(2) Au revoir

Ruth Wilson of Ruth Wilson PR, said: “I set up my business five years ago and sadly never completely switch off – I can’t, as it’s just me! I’m a PR consultant and my clients rely on me to be available as well as proactively working for them.

“I’m going to France with the family and I’m telling clients that I would like about four days where if they need me urgently they can call me, but my phone will be mostly on silent. I’ll be checking emails but trying to switch off in between. After that I’ll be doing a bit of work before breakfast and after lunch. I’m fortunate as my clients do understand – and are happy, as they know the work will get done.”

(3) A liking for hiking

Richard Stewart, founder of employee benefits provider, said: “I’m looking forward to a week off in Wales at the end of July with the family and the dog.

“Beach walks, hikes in Snowdonia, and time spent with family and friends is, for me, the best way to unwind. I will need to respond to a few emails and queries, but a week is short enough that I should be able to get away with having a proper break.

“If you’re struggling to commit to summer holidays, look at it in terms of ROI if you must. You will be more productive when you arrive home refreshed, which will have knock-on effects for your business and your team.”


Helen Wang on the beach

(4) You live and learn

Helen Wang, director of Abakus Foods, said: “Last year during the summer holiday, we went on a holiday in Mallorca in August, but I pretty much worked through the entire period, and afterwards felt like I didn’t have a holiday at all – I was not relaxed.

“So, for this year’s summer holiday, I am determined to have a work-free break in August. I’m planning to go on a road trip in Scotland where I will be driving, which I enjoy, so this will force me to take a break from my mobile phone and emails, and disconnect. At least, that’s the plan.”

(5) Party in the city where the heat is on

Danny Toffel, director of Watches2U, said: “I’m going on a family break to Miami this month to spend some time with my wife and two daughters, aged 11 and 13, for a two-week cruise on Harmony of the Seas. Part of the attraction of this holiday is the number of physical activities that are available including rock climbing wall, sports courts and swimming pools.

“Not only does staying active help me to unwind from work, but it’s also part of an important lifestyle change that I have embraced following health concerns that were highlighted last year. I have now lost over eight stone thanks to the adoption of a better work-life balance and healthier lifestyle.

“The business has ambitious targets to achieve £20m, and summer is a busy season for us, so inevitably a little work will always creep in. However, I’ve built a strong team around. My holiday plans now involve weekly check-ins, rather than daily, just to make sure I am kept in the loop on the business performance. Cutting down my contact time means I can properly focus on enjoying my holiday with my family.”

Visit the next page to see how rounding up sheep is surprisingly important for one business owner

(6) Plain sailing

Hayley Reynolds, RAW PR, said: “I set up RAW PR & Marketing nearly six years ago. Up until now I have been flat out on the business and it’s been difficult to get away. My husband joined the business 18 months ago so we are now both involved.

“However, this year, for the first time, we are planning a six-week break where we’ll be driving our 26ft 60 year-old wooden boat to Venice and then sail through Croatia with our three children, Jemima (ten), Freddie (nine) and George (six).

“I will be keeping a check of emails and will work whilst my husband Jonathan is driving, but plan to switch off almost entirely whilst we’re sailing during August.”

(7) Work is my holiday

Alister Esam, CEO of eShare, said: “I get that people need to recharge their batteries but I find it sad that so much focus goes on relaxing because work is so stressful or that people feel the need to get away from ‘horrible’ work.

“I love what I do and if you took it away I’d be lost. I find work an incredibly positive part of my life. I became an entrepreneur to take control and change the world the way I wanted to.

“I could refuse to work, be unhappy and the business might even suffer a little, but I choose not to because I enjoy work. Some holidays, such as sailing/skiing are very active, so then I choose to discard work.

“But others, such as beach/pool summer holidays, I prefer to work quite a lot and read business books. I also do different work, more strategic thinking and less tactical doing. However, if my kids or wife want to do something, go somewhere, play tennis etc, then work gets dropped immediately.”

(8) Making memories

Jennifer Macdonald-Nethercott, marketing manager at Meatsnacks, said: “My family and I went to Gairloch and Portsoy (I’m in Scotland, so our school holidays have already been underway), both trips included our motor home, sun, sea and sand, which makes the perfect backdrop to unwind.

“The kids went swimming in the sea and we built sandcastles and went hunting in the rock pools – all activities that create great memories. It also gave me the chance to totally escape from work and reflect on the year so far. It meant I came back to work re-charged and ready for the rest of the year ahead.

(9) Unlimited holiday allowance – but no time to use it

Paul Cockerton is co-founder and co-CEO at Dynamo PR: “We offer our employees unlimited holiday. Not only is it a great perk for our staff, but it has real business benefits. It’s easy to manage as employees coordinate leave with their colleagues, which in turn helps build trust and a positive company culture. Plus, people come back from holiday feeling revitalised and the end result is that their work is fantastic.

“Personally, I use unlimited holiday to spend time with my family. Some of our staff are more adventurous, jetting off to new destinations at every opportunity. In fact, one of our staff took a month off to drive to Mongolia, fully paid.”

Peter Bowles, fellow co-founder and co-CEO at Dynamo PR, said: “To be honest, running a small business you rarely switch off. I often find when I’m away on summer holidays I want top level information from my business partner – any big new client wins, staff changes and so on.

“My business partner will text or WhatsApp me those details, but I’ve also set up a separate email address for super urgent enquiries that only a few key people have. That way I can switch off my main email and rely on any big issues being forwarded to me. That gives me peace of mind outside work and is a good trick.”

Rachel Jones relaxing at her cousin's farm

Rachel Jones relaxing at her cousin’s farm

(10) Silence of the lambs

Rachel Jones, CEO and founder of SnapDragon, said: “The very best thing for me during summer holidays is rounding up sheep. You can’t take your phone out and you can’t hear yourself think, which is a really good thing when you spend so much of your time focused on work.

“Thankfully I am lucky to be able to do this on my cousin’s farm. At Easter, we go lambing and in the summer holidays we help with rounding up the sheep. At the end of the summer we go to sheep sales and walk round the sales ring in circles. It’s the absolute opposite of being glued to my laptop.

“Earlier this summer I also found myself in Spain, working in the garden. Palm tree rustling, goats’ bells clanking in the background and gin and tonic probably not too far away. It certainly makes a change from the office!”

Read on to see how recording an audiobook will keep one entrepreneur busy this summer

(11) Entering the unknown

Denise Spragg, director of The Sanga House, said: “Although we work 14-hour days at least three days a week – and probably about nine hours for the others – we made a conscious decision to take Tuesdays and, when we can, Wednesday mornings, as our weekends.

“Our business model is in the health and wellbeing sector, so we have to practise what we preach. As for what we do on those days off, we relocated to Somerset, an area that neither of us know well in order to start the business.

“We bought a renovation project of a house, so we alternate between working on the house and taking day trips out into the countryside or to the beach. We believe that getting out into nature is a great antidote to a busy working life, and we always feel revived afterwards. That enables us to go back and be positive and encouraging with our customers.”

Alex Smith likes to "work hard, play hard"

Alex Smith likes to “work hard, play hard”

(12) R&R at all times 

Alex Smith, founder of Basic Arts, said: “For me the ideal scenario is not to have extended periods of intense work followed by extended periods of intense relaxation, but rather mild work at all times.

“For instance, if I’m out in the countryside chilling out, or on holiday as I was in Hawaii last month, I will happily check emails maybe once per day, or every couple of days, or jump on a call to chat about something – in much the same way I would if a friend or relative wanted to discuss something with me.

“By the same token on a given working Tuesday I won’t be locked to the computer nine to five – that’s the compromise.

“The goal of entrepreneurship for me is to get to a point where I don’t know where life ends and work begins; it’s all just one big thing that I want to be doing.”

(13) FOMO

Georgina Nelson, founder of TruRating, said: “I do find that work creeps into any break I take. There are some people I know who find not looking at the phone or opening the laptop to be the definition of relaxation. For me that means I’m in a constant cold sweat, uneasy about what tsunami is waiting for me when I do.

“For the first few days of any break I usually work a good chunk of time each day (4-8 hours) – finding the peace and quiet is the perfect opportunity to clear my to do list. Once that’s done, then it’s just a daily couple of hours or so monitoring the emails and jumping on any urgent calls.

“Long weekends seem to be the option – driving to a different town or the coast, preferably an area which has big skies. I find starring at big skies really helps me unwind.”

(14) Healthy you, healthy business

Teresa Horscroft, MD of Eureka Communications, said: “For the summer holidays, I am taking off four weeks during August to unwind.

“I believe in summer holidays. I take 6-8 weeks every year and, as a rule, I do not check emails while I’m on holiday and try not to think about work at all. I don’t believe that you can properly monitor emails while you’re on the beach let alone cycling through the mountains of Sardinia or trekking in Spain, so why try to do half a job?

“I believe everyone is entitled to a holiday. Actually, I think if you don’t take a proper holiday then you’re being irresponsible for not just your own health but also the health of the business.

“So what am I doing this year? A staycation for a few weeks where I intend to get out on my bike to cover some miles on those glorious rolling Hampshire hills, pick up my camera and meet up with friends for lunch and two weeks in Greece.”

Rob Moore recording audiobooks

Rob Moore recording his audiobook

(15) Mic check

Rob Moore, founder of Progressive Property, said: “My work diary for June and July was largely dominated by days off for getting married and having a honeymoon in the US, but a deadline for my latest book “Money: Know More, Make More, Give More” was looming and I realised I would have to record my audiobook.

“I also recorded some podcasts and took time to think about the business while sitting in the sun, rather than working in the business in the office I mentor entrepreneurs for a living through my companies Progressive Property and Unlimited Success and teach people about work-life balance and think it can be ok and productive for work to creep into downtime as long as new wives, loved ones aren’t neglected!”