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by Ricci Shryock
If you haven’t taken a vacation this summer, make time for one. Benefits range from improved productivity to lower blood pressure and even, potentially, a longer life.

The phone rings at Alberto & Associates, an architecture firm in Haddonfield, and owner Angelo Alberto answers the call. “My secretary is on vacation,” he explains. “I always encourage my employees to take vacations. I feel that it makes a healthier and more productive employee.”

Many business owners or executives might think they are too busy to tear themselves away from the office for a few days or a week of relaxation, says Kathryn Friedman, director of integrative health care at Lourdes Wellness Center in Collingswood. But, she says, stealing away for a few days in the summer—and continuing to schedule time off year-round—has many psychological and physical benefits, not to mention business returns.

“Time off can recharge our batteries, calm the mind, promote creativity, reduce stress, and allow time to take care of personal needs and obligations. All of these things lead to a more productive and efficient return to work,” Friedman says. As for those who skip that downtime, she warns, “Increased stress and feelings of being overwhelmed can contribute to many health negatives including high blood pressure, poor sleep, [and] poor self-care and prevention regimens.”

Scott Marcus, who owns Scott H. Marcus & Associates Law Firm in Turnersville, says he often takes long weekends at the Shore in order to revive after a hard workweek. “I take these long weekends rather than a 10-day trip because we’re so busy at the office,” he added, just days before embarking on a short vacation to Montreal.

Friedman says Marcus and other weekend Shore-goers have the right idea.

“Any break is a good break; however, there is a lot to be said for ‘leaving town,’ even for day trips, and incorporating nature and fresh air,” she says. “Forgoing breaks and vacations can have negative effects on both health and work efficiency.”

Marcus admits that, now that he has put 35 years into his career, he has more freedom to take vacations than he had when he was younger. “I hated my 30s,” he says. “I worked long hours and I was running around all day. I remember having to leave my daughter’s birthday party to go do something. My 30s were very difficult. It was very taxing.”

He adds that, as a business owner, it became increasingly important to hire quality staff that would enable him to take occasional time off—and to be able to trust that his business was in good hands. “As you get older, it gets harder, and so hopefully you get good people around you,” he says.

If you don’t, you could find yourself tied to your desk—and you wouldn’t be alone. In fact, only 46 percent of small business owners planned summer vacations this year, according to an American Express OPEN survey—though that was up from 40 percent in 2010. And, 68 percent of those taking a vacation said they’d be checking their messages while on their breaks.

Alberto agrees with Marcus that having the right support staff in place can make the difference between a week at the Shore and just another week at the office.

“When I first started my business, it was very difficult,” Alberto says. “Thankfully today I have very good people working for me and working with me—and they’ve made it easier to take vacations.”

Both Alberto and Marcus say that setting aside personal time has proven essential for longevity in deadline-oriented, high-pressure businesses.

“There is a work-life balance. Our profession is very, very time sensitive, and in many professions you don’t always get paid for every hour. I think it’s important to maintain a balance,” says Alberto.

While all types of professionals need regular breaks, high-stress jobs—like those of many business owners—may make time off even more crucial for maintaining long-term health and mental engagement, Friedman adds. When planning a vacation, she suggests, “Be sure to take enough time for relaxation to kick in. One study showed that, after three days off, respondents showed decreased physical complaints, and increased quality of sleep and mood.”

As a business owner, taking a vacation may feel like revenue lost—and offering workers paid vacations may even more fruitless. But, Friedman notes, “The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacations. In the U.S., 10 percent of full-time and more than 60 percent of part-time employees get no paid vacation.” We’re missing out, science suggests, on benefits including improved creativity, productivity and morale.

And there are long-term effects as well. The Framingham Heart Study, a Boston University and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute project that observed 12,000 men at risk of heart disease for nine years, came to a striking conclusion. “Those who took vacations lived longer,” Friedman says.

As for Alberto, even though he was covering for his secretary, he says he, too, makes sure to take two weeks every year to vacation with his family and rest from work. And when his secretary returns, he’ll be headed to Avalon for a few weeks on the beach.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 1, Issue 7 (July, 2011).
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