Taking a break from work is good for you but for many small business owners it is difficult to find the 'right time'.

It's worth taking the time to rethink your company's approach to work/life balance and flexibility – especially given the business and personal benefits are well documented.

Pamela Murray-Jones, a business coach specialising in strategy, leadership and organisational wellbeing, says planning properly for taking a break is the key to making it work for business owners.

"I sometimes see business owners who think of a holiday for themselves as 'money lost'. You need to build your holiday into your income structure, just as you do for any employee salary package," she explains. "And if you time it around your quietest period, you'll find it a lot easier to enjoy the time off."

Murray-Jones points to extensive research backing up the benefits of a break.  

Not only are you more productive after a break, holidays make you more focused in the lead up because you have a deadline to work to.

"The Framingham Heart Study found a long-term correlation between taking frequent holidays and living a healthier, longer life. Specifically, men are 30% more likely to have a heart attack if they regularly skip holidays," she says.

Canadian researchers Joudrey and Wallace  studied a sample of 900 lawyers and found active leisure pursuits such as golf or surfing help to buffer job stress. It's understood that taking a holiday gives you a better life perspective and motivates you to achieve your goals. However, a Netherlands study showed there is no happiness gain after a holiday if there was moderate to high travel-related stress, such as long airport delays and traffic jams.  

Make some time to find balance

Glen Peterson, Director at LJ Hooker Commercial Parramatta and Blacktown, believes it's critical for business owners and their staff to take a break, to stay fresh and get some balance in their lives.

"It's not about 'quality time' – you either have time or you don't," he says. "Acknowledging you have a problem with balance is the first step to finding an answer. Then you need to work out what balance means to you. It might not be taking a trip overseas, it might be spending a week at home building a cubby house with your kids."

He says the most important tip he shares with his younger directors is to finish phone calls before walking through their front door. "Your children won't care if you turn up later for dinner, but they will notice if you walk in on your phone," he says. For him, balance is about giving his family undivided attention.

Get a new perspective on your business

"Big problems don't get solved while you're busy running the day-to-day of your business," says Murray-Jones. "You need to take time to reflect and learn. Holidays give you great thinking time, allowing you to free your mind of the smaller day-to-day operational details, phone calls and emails so you can reflect on some of the bigger issues you're dealing with."

There are proven productivity benefits as well. In a 2006 Ernst & Young research study, the firm found that, for every extra 10 hours of holiday its employees took, average annual performance ratings rose eight per cent.  

Not only are you more productive after a break, holidays make you more focused in the lead up because you have a deadline to work to.

And while your business may not have the resources to match Virgin's recent offer to its corporate staff of 'unlimited leave', it does indicate a general move towards flexibility as a performance booster.

Lead by example

Murray-Jones believes business owners have a responsibility to their staff to create a healthy workplace. "Staff look to you for guidance on the 'holiday culture', and if you don't take time off you're sending a message that it's also not OK for them," she says.

Peterson says most of his staff are good at taking a break, "because they mimic what we do and we monitor it closely. If someone isn't asking for leave or if we can see they're getting frazzled, we encourage them to take some time off."

When the senior managers take time out, it's also a great opportunity to develop your staff – giving people the chance to learn new skills, take on more responsibility and challenge themselves.

Peterson spent his recent holiday in New York and says: " I had no guilt in knowing no one could call me there. I'd spoken to everyone I needed to, and my staff and partners all knew what to do. When you have someone to share the load – the right partnerships – you don't need to check in all the time."

Murray-Jones believes the key is achieving a balanced state of mind so you are in the best position to navigate life's professional and personal ups and downs.

"Work is part of your life. So are a lot of other things – health, relationships and family. You need to look at the whole circle. It's not just work on one side, life on the other. The balance is in your mind – if you're not overwhelmed, you can be more focused in all aspects of your life."

Five ways to plan ahead for your holiday

  • Let your clients know in advance. Put a note on your email footer a few weeks before your leave. If your office is closing for a short period, post the information on your website, add it to your voicemail message and turn on your out of office message for emails.
  • Set up a contingency plan. Who can clients call if they need urgent help?
  • Prepare staff to take on more responsibility. Make sure they understand what is expected, empower them to make decisions and compensate them properly if you're expecting them to take on a much bigger role for a short period of time.
  • If you run a smaller business, build trusted relationships with external partners to help support clients during your absence.
  • Decide how often you'll check emails – and stick to it. It could be once a week or once every two days, but make sure you limit your time and only address important issues.Even better, turn your phone off or leave it at home.

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1 David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom, Forbes, Why Americans Don't Like Vacations...Or Work 06 10 14

2 Shawn Achor, Harvard Business Review, When a Vacation Reduces Stress — And When It Doesn’t 14 02 14

3 Carolyn Boyd, Human Resources Media, The link between holidays and performance 27 11 14