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How to help business owners take a break

At a glance

  • SME owners are taking less holiday than last year, and less than their counterparts at bigger businesses
  • Findings from Zurich’s latest SME Risk Index show how stretched small and medium-sized businesses have become
  • We discuss the dilemma your SME customers face in deciding how to take a much-needed rest without disrupting their business operations, and explain how we can help

For many small and medium-sized business owners, it seems like there is never a good time to take a break.

Our latest SME Risk Index found that three-quarters (74%) of SME owners took fewer than 25 days of holiday last year, with a third (31%) taking fewer than 15 days off. And while 71% of SME owners took a holiday lasting at least five working days last year, only 43% have booked to do the same over the next 12 months.

Perhaps the most eye-catching finding from the survey of 1,000 UK SME owners was that nearly one in ten (8%) took no holiday at all last year. In comparison, a survey of nearly 300 key decision makers at larger businesses found that only 2% took no leave, and just 57% took fewer than 25 days’ leave.

Why do SME owners struggle to take holiday?

Nearly half (48%) of SME owners said that if they took more holiday, their business would be negatively affected, compared with just over one quarter (27%) of decision makers at large businesses.

This concern is understandable. When deciding whether or not to take a holiday, SME owners will be faced with many questions, such as:

  • Can key responsibilities be safely delegated?
  • Who should I put in charge in my absence?
  • Will customer enquiries be responded to?
  • Will we lose business if they are not?
  • Will our suppliers be paid on time?
  • How would my staff respond to a major loss?

However, it is important your SME customers do take annual leave, and not just for their health and wellbeing. Handing over the reins for a week or two can empower their staff, showing them that they are trusted to take important decisions.

Before going on holiday, SME owners would benefit from careful planning, to ensure their business operations continue to run smoothly in their absence. See our boxout for some useful tips that you can pass on to your SME owners who may be planning a break.

Taking a break

Other SME owners may choose to take regular short breaks, rather than holidaying for a week or two at a time.

Five tips for SME owners planning a break

  1. Let customers and suppliers know several weeks ahead that you will be away.
  2. Brief your staff on who customers and suppliers should contact in your absence.
  3. Manage your cash flow carefully to ensure staff and suppliers will be paid on time.
  4. Ensure your staff know who will be responsible for dealing with a major incident in your absence, e.g. a major loss, a cyber attack or an incident causing significant reputational damage.
  5. Be contactable – while you will not want to be answering emails every hour, you should ensure that, wherever possible, you can be reached in an emergency.

This flexibility is one of the advantages some SME owners have, and is reflected in our latest Risk Index. It found that only 56% of SME owners work more than 40 hours a week, compared to 73% of decision makers at larger organisations. One quarter (24%) of SME owners are able to work fewer than 35 hours a week.

Anne Griffiths, Head of SME Propositions at Zurich, says: “While the common perception that working for yourself provides day-to-day flexibility appears to ring true, it is undeniable that running your own business is a balancing act.

“Employees at larger businesses are reporting the freedom to take more holiday without affecting business operations, where smaller businesses are really feeling the strain in holiday season.

“The sheer responsibility of owning a business is clearly weighing heavy on business owners’ shoulders. It is imperative that small business owners are making use of all the support available to them to ensure their businesses are healthy and stable enough to let them take some well-deserved time off.”

How to ease the strain on SME owners

Some SMEs are so small that when the owner or a key employee takes time off, it can be difficult for the remaining staff to cope.

Latest research suggests one third of SMEs are planning to recruit new staff. However, even as small and medium-sized businesses expand, they need support to cope with the challenges they face.

Our SME proposition includes a range of products and services that have been designed to give your customers’ peace of mind if they’re going on holiday, so they can concentrate on growing their businesses.

These include:

  • Access to Reputation.com, to help your customers monitor what people are saying about them online
  • A Cyber Protect helpline, offering customers advice from a fully trained digital forensic investigator
  • A disaster recovery service in partnership with First Recovery
  • Our online risk management tool, Virtual Consulting

In addition, our SME Proposition offers £2m of business interruption cover and gives customers access to online legal advice and helplines.

To find out more about how we can help your customers, or for more information on any aspect of this article, speak with your local Zurich contact.

Image © Getty

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