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Should Startup Founders Take Vacations? An Expert Weighs In.

It takes relentless drive for a startup founder to guide a business idea from nothing into a dynamic, life-changing company. But that same tenaciousness can often cause entrepreneurs to overlook an important aspect of business success: time away from the business.

Vacations, downtime and work-life balance can be easily overlooked in a startup culture that emphasizes long hours and total commitment to helping the business take flight. But stepping away and recharging is vital for founders, even at tiny early-stage companies, says entrepreneur Blake Stanfill, the director of growth at trepwise, a New Orleans-based consulting firm that works with startups and established businesses.

“It’s really important you take that time to really give your mind a rest and then come back reinvigorated and solve whatever problems you have,” he says.

Burnout Is a Real Issue

Stanfill says burnout ranks among the most common factors that can derail a startup. In its executive coaching work, trepwise seeks to help founders avoid burnout by encouraging them to map out their work-life priorities, plan for stress reduction and build in necessary vacation time throughout the year.

Its executive coaching platform includes a needs assessment to help leaders identify and understand the various stressors and important components of their lives. Throughout the process, founders map out who the stakeholders are in their lives — including family members — followed by goal setting and structured stress reduction.

“With structure and planning you can, over the course of a 52-week year, identify blocks of time to step away,” he says. “In fact, I would argue that it’s necessary to really make the company thrive.”

It’s a Culture-Setter

A survey found that about 80 percent of employees say they would take more time off if they felt fully supported and encouraged to do so by their boss. One of the best ways to signal your support for others to take time off is to take your own vacation. When a founder takes a break it exhibits that work-life balance is important for the rest of the organization.

“Startup cultures are typically top-down, so it becomes incumbent upon founders to exhibit the behavior … and to find ways to retreat and have work-life balance,” Stanfill says.

Employees will follow your lead and take their own vacations, which is an important factor in attracting new talent as your company grows, given the emphasis on work-life balance younger generations are placing.

“The new labor workforce is very interested in work-life balance, and inclusive in that is taking time to retreat, relax and vacation,” Stanfill says.

Planning Ahead Helps

As a founder, the more you plan ahead, the more likely you are to take a vacation — and the better the chance that it will be a positive experience for you and your company. Understanding what will happen while you’re gone and when you return can minimize disruptions and reduce stress.

“There’s always going to be urgency in a small company because there’s one person or a couple of people wearing multiple hats,” Stanfill says. “There’s always going to be something to do.”

He says it’s important as a founder to delegate your work to other team members while also delineating a clear chain of command for any responsibilities or tasks that need to be taken care of in your absence. For one-person startups, he suggests creating an outline or plan of the work you want to address and how you want to tackle it when you return.

He says it’s also important to clearly communicate that chain of command, as well as employee roles and responsibilities, to customers, vendors or clients — who Stanfill says are typically quite understanding of a founder taking time off.

“As long as that’s all planned out, I think people respect and appreciate founders who make the time to take care of themselves,” he says.

Zoe Parker