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MAY 22, 2000

I'm Outta Here

Can't find time for a vacation? You could be hurting your business by not taking a break


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In January, Samer Hamadeh was taken from New York, put on a plane, and whisked away to Morocco. The kidnapper? His girlfriend, Alison. Determined to spend some quality time with her workaholic boyfriend, she sprang the trip on Hamadeh at the last minute, leaving him no choice but to come along.

That's certainly one way to take a vacation. Indeed, for many entrepreneurs it might be the only way. Consider Hamadeh. Three years ago, at 27, he co-founded Inc., an Internet jobs portal. Since then, he has taken just one other vacation.

That's a problem. An inability to take a break "can lead to stress, burnout, and a greater vulnerability to feeling betrayed and angry when things at work don't go well," says Ilene Philipson, a Berkeley (Calif.) psychologist who specializes in workplace issues. And that's bad for business. Anxiety at the top often translates into low morale and slumping productivity throughout the ranks.

The question is how to let go. While you can't count on getting kidnapped, you may want to let someone else do the planning. Says Hamadeh: "It's kind of fun to be surprised along the way and let someone else worry." Plot your escape months in advance. Terry McNally, owner of Philadelphia's fashionable London Grill, actually hired a management consultant to help get her organization in better shape so she could leave without stressing out. Together, they generated a list of tasks and trained several employees to handle her duties. The tab was $1,000, and worth every cent: McNally is spending the month of June relaxing at a farmhouse in Tuscany. She anticipates checking in maybe once a week.

If you'd prefer not to hire a consultant, keep a diary of your daily work life, noting what you're doing every half-hour. After a week, generate a list of tasks to delegate to others. Prepare a stack of "what-if" folders, with solutions for potential problems--from natural disasters to personal emergencies. Or, if possible, close down the entire office during the slow season, and give everyone a break. The point is that no organization should fall apart in the absence of one person, says Mark Weaver, a business consultant who leads the University of Alabama's Small Business Institute. But whatever you do, don't feel guilty for working while you're on vacation. Even if you do have to spend a few hours a day taking care of business, the hours of relaxation more than make up for it.

As for Hamadeh, he says that being on the other side of the globe probably is the best break from the office. Alison agrees, so the two are heading to Jordan and Lebanon this summer to visit his extended family there. He promises to leave his laptop home.


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