Vacations are good for you—and your business
Almost 100 years ago, Henry Ford reduced the hours his Ford Motor Co. employees worked, cutting the work week from six days to five, thereby bringing each week’s total hours down from 48 hours to 40.
Ford realized the productivity of his employees diminished after six eight-hour days, so he took strides to keep productivity high—moves many 21st-century workers would scoff at, even though Ford enjoyed decades of success.
It was a revolutionary move for an entrepreneur in America, and a lesson we’d do well to heed today, when we work more than ever and take fewer vacations. In fact, according to a 2013 Expedia survey, we are actually using only 10 of the meager 14 vacation days allotted to the average American.
The Elusive Perfect Getaway
A remote island escape can be the perfect way to disconnect from your day-to-day grind. (photo: Dana Neibert/Getty Images)
Some jewelry retailers, however, are making vacations a priority, and they’re reaping the rewards.
When Justin Klomp took over his family’s business, Trice Jewelers in Centennial, Colo., he didn’t take a single vacation the first couple of years. “It was too hard to separate work and play,” he says. “Play time isn’t fun if you can’t let go of the critical issues that need to be taken care of.”
But in 2003, Klomp went to Argentina and got the ball rolling. Once the business is in order, vacations are enjoyable—even though it’s still hard to leave, he admits. “I always come back to a mountain of work and it’s hard to get caught up. But I can’t work 24/7 for 40 years straight, and the reality is if I plan ahead I can enjoy my vacation and come back recharged.”
Vacations also allow Klomp to pursue his hobbies. He goes hunting for mountain lions and big game, skiing, hiking, biking, and golfing, both stateside and in the jungles of South America.
And while Klomp feels relaxed and refreshed when he returns, something else happens, too. “My creativity increases,” he says. “Sometimes when you are sitting on the beach you have great ideas. When you are in the day-to-day grind, you focus on the task at hand. When you are away, it opens up your mind.”
Vacations also help increase physical and mental strength, which makes dealing with business difficulties or facing tough decisions easier. “You come back with renewed spirit and energy and you can focus and get more accomplished,” says Sara Commers, owner of Commers Custom Jewelers in Minneapolis.
Trice Jewelers’ Justin Klomp and his father on a grizzly bear hunt in Northwest Alaska in the fall of 2013
Plus, her travels serve as inspiration for changes in the store’s decor and displays. “I feel I’m always absorbing the colors, textures, decoration, design, architecture, things in nature.”
Commers plans two to five trips every year that combine business and pleasure, often piggybacking time for herself onto work-related travel or trips for personal events such as weddings. But one big annual getaway is pleasure-only and usually involves her skis or snowboard and a remote mountain. “When I am on a mountaintop, staring down the face of a double black diamond chute in Whistler, British Columbia, the last thing I am thinking about is my jewelry store,” Commers says. “I am concentrating on survival. It resets my mind and sharpens my focus on what is really valuable in my life.”
And taking vacations gives you something to talk to your clients about, Commers says. “We’re always trying to connect with people on a personal level, so we share stories of experiences we have.”
Despite Commers’ zeal for vacations, for the first few years after opening her store in 2002 she limited herself to the occasional weekend excursion. The scenario was the same for Randy Wimmer and his brother, Brad; neither took vacations for the first decade after taking the helm at Wimmer’s Diamonds, a two-store chain in Fargo, N.D. “We’d attend the JCK show and another show or two and go to Antwerp to buy diamonds. We realized we were out of the store a lot so [we asked ourselves], can we also take a vacation?” Randy Wimmer says. “But going to a buying show is not a vacation; you’re usually tired after four days.”
The Wimmers haven’t looked back since they started going on holidays. “After vacations we come back more ready for work, more enthusiastic,” Randy says. The trade-off is that so many times we work too much and get tied up in a cycle of stress.”
For Health and Happiness
Americans need to start changing how they think of vacations, says Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of The Stress Institute in Atlanta. “They’re not a luxury, but a necessity.”
When we go away we experience mental changes, Hall says. “Your adrenaline and your stress hormones go down, you feel better, you relax. When you pull away from your business, you have more time to be creative, to be reflexive.” And because stressed people are more likely to develop heart disease, obesity, and cancer and to have jeopardized immune systems and insomnia, you’ll enjoy physical benefits as well when you de-stress by getting away from it all.
Taking vacations will, without a doubt, improve your business, says Robert J. Kriegel, author of How to Succeed in Business Without Working so Damn Hard. The key to professional success, he says, is differentiating yourself from the competition. “But when you are working really hard you tend to do things on automatic,” Kriegel says. “People never get their best ideas at work because they’re just responding to whatever’s coming at them and tend to respond in the same way they have before. There’s no innovation. People get ideas when they’re not trying to get ideas.”
Commers Custom Jewelers’ Sara Commers on a 2012 snowboarding trip in Telluride, Colo.
There’s another advantage of leaving the business for a week of vacation, and one few business owners consider: Your staff can benefit from your absence, too. “When we go away it probably makes employees feel more vested in the company,” Randy Wimmer says. “They are very proud of themselves if they helped a customer with what they feel is an emergency.”
Klomp agrees. “Most of my staff appreciate the opportunity to help and are very willing to step up and take the responsibility for a job well done.”
But to make things easier for your employees and yourself, you need to prepare carefully before each trip. “I go through every job in process and I check all the orders and make sure employees know all they need to do,” says Commers. “I print full inventory reports so they can see our margins and markups; that way they can make discounts if needed to make that sale happen.” She also puts one key person in charge of handling the daily operations and protocols.
Thoroughly preparing your staff before you leave for vacation also means you’re more likely to be able to completely switch off while you’re away—increasingly difficult in today’s always-connected world of smartphones and tablets. Commers says she usually touches base with her team at the start of a trip. If there are no problems, she often doesn’t bother checking in again. She has found that “the more frequently I travel, the less my team really needs me.”
If you’re in Antwerp to buy diamonds, why not take a few days to play tourist? (Thinkstock)
Klomp checks in with his store, but not too often. “I like being able to call in and see what’s going on. I’ll call once a day and email a couple of times, but I won’t panic if I can’t.”
Completely disconnecting from your business when you’re away is ideal, but sometimes that in itself can be more stressful than maintaining some degree of communication, says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “So it’s best to set aside a time to check in—once or twice a day—and stick to it,” she advises.
Be sure, however, to limit that time, Hall says. Tell yourself you can check emails or make calls for 30 to 60 minutes, but then you’ll be on vacation again.
(Top: Philip and Karen Smith/Getty Images)
Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of The Stress Institute in Atlanta, offers five reasons we should de-stress:
• We laugh more. “When people laugh their artery diameter increases, and when they are stressed it decreases,” says Hall. “Our vital organs need that precious oxygen.”
• We’re more active. Studies show that many people get as much relief from depression by exercising as from taking antidepressants.
• We’re more social. People who have connections with people they love are healthier and have lower blood pressure, and their brains produce more oxytocin, which has a calming effect.
• We sleep better, which leads to less obesity and more creativity.
• We’re more creative and have new ideas that don’t have a chance to thrive when we’re stressed.