A three-week holiday to China with the kids followed by a two-week staycation. For most CEOs it’s a faraway dream. The common perception of the ever-present workaholic entrepreneur is still very much alive. They’ve got it all wrong, says Wendy van Ierschot (47), founder of VIE People. “Taking longer holidays makes me a better entrepreneur.” Here’s how to get away without leaving your company to crumble.
There’s no in between for the founder of the ever-growing HR-consulting firm VIE People. Wendy only knows two modes: on and off. And on she was. Years ago, not long after starting her company, she was in Spain with her young children and husband. “Every time they looked away, or were in the swimming pool or grabbing an ice cream, I was emailing or making acquisition calls.” Wendy laughs as she recalls sitting on a terrace next to the pool, finally shutting down her laptop and realizing it was the last day of her holiday. “It was completely ridiculous; I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed I was ruining my time away with my family. I was so disillusioned.” When she got back home she had to drag herself to work. She felt tired.
Now, more than a decade later, Wendy has perfected her getaway-strategy. Her six tips will have you completely switch off during a luscious, long holiday and return to work inspired and energized.
A great holiday starts with the right preparation. How do you get your organization to keep running smoothly in your absence? By continuously asking yourself if you are the only person capable of doing the task at hand. If that is the case you have to look at what you can do to transfer the task to others in your team. Wendy: “Train your current staff members to do what you do best. If you want to be a good leader you have to stop doing what you are good at and become a coach instead.”
How healthy is your organization? Put it to the test by taking a holiday. “When scaling up you should at least be able to take a two-week break without putting your company at risk”, Wendy explains. As you scale up take longer holidays each year to test if your business will keep running without you. Besides it being a good health-indicator of your company, it’s important for entrepreneurs to take regular breaks because it puts things into perspective. “Throughout the year I keep wanting to take my company to the next level. I want to work harder, better, faster, stronger. But after I’ve come back from my holiday, I can take a step back and prioritize other things.”
“I now always take 6 weeks off during the kids’ summer holidays in July and August.” The trick is to use the first week to finish up the last bits of work. “Make a list of priorities at the end of the first week, so you know exactly where to start when you get back to work. You’ll see that what you prioritize before you go on holiday versus after you get back can be completely different.” Then drop everything, switch off and enjoy a relaxing 4-week holiday. Using the last week to slowly ease yourself into working-mode avoids after-holiday blues. More importantly it allows you to catch up, so you can kickstart work the next Monday.
To return to work truly rested, setting up the right out-of-office is crucial. By right we mean that it manages expectations. The message should be simple and clear: you can reach me, but strictly for important stuff. For everything else, you can email my colleague. Wendy: “I always give my contacts the option of messaging me on my phone if its urgent, but I rarely receive any messages. People respect each other’s time off. That’s nice to experience.” Save yourself and your colleague work by calling your clients to action – they will only do so in case of emergency. “When I take my six weeks off, I write that I’ll be away for three. After three weeks I take one day to pay the salaries of my employees, do my taxes and read my most important emails. Then I change my return date to three weeks from then.”
A long break is the perfect occasion to reflect on how things are going. Much better than, say, the end of the year. December is a busy time so take some time during your holiday to ask yourself if you are happy with what you have accomplished that year and with how the business is growing. “Your own power is the biggest weakness of the company, and you will only notice the weaknesses of your business when you take a break.” Use the rest of the year to polish up and improve those things. “My company was still running smoothly when I got back from my holiday”, Wendy explains. But she did notice they were behind on acquisition. “So instead of getting my employees up to speed by giving a presentation – something that had failed to work in the past – I let my team interview me, allowing them to tackle the issues they were struggling with.”
If your company is still intact upon return it means you’ve done an excellent job. “Reward your hard work with a bonus. It helps you finance the next holiday and it’s a great incentive to do even better next time.”
So plan your leave for next year right now and take this year to prepare your organization for your absence! Leave us a note if it worked (or not ;-)).