A small business often operates under challenging conditions even when everyone comes into work. People wear multiple hats and sometimes offer skills or expertise that no other employee has.
Add in vacations, and things can become tense quickly. Crucial functions may get neglected and operations may suffer.
Despite that, even at small companies, it's important to offer paid vacation time. Doing so requires careful planning, scheduling, and buy-in from your team.
Many businesses have a busy season. It makes sense to limit or even outlaw vacations during these crucial periods. For example, a retail store might not allow time off between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. A tax-prep service might require workers to be there in March and April.
Aside from those crucial periods, work with employees to schedule any time off longer than a day or two. Put weeklong breaks on the calendar, and figure out whether essential work can be done in advance, or if someone else needs to be trained to do it.
Consider a shutdown
Some non-retail businesses close for a week or two during their slowest season. This can be a full shutdown or a rolling closure where a skeleton staff stays behind to deal with crucial issues.
Don't make a shutdown the only vacation time available to your employees -- people need to take time at their own discretion. But a shutdown can definitely be a piece of the puzzle.
Talk to your workers
Some people like to take weeklong breaks, or need to for family reasons. In other cases, workers may prefer lots of long weekends or multiple shorter breaks. Talk to your employees to figure out how to make what they want match the needs of your business.
Be a team
As a small business owner, you should foster a team environment. Ideally, that will create an atmosphere in which employees will make sacrifices for one another. That should lead to the rest of the team stepping up so someone else can take a vacation in peace.
Don't forget yourself
Small business owners sometimes run themselves into the ground trying to make their company work. It can be tempting to do that and think that you are irreplaceable. But in the long run, if you never stop working, you will burn out.
It may not be feasible in the early days of a small business to take a week off. Do what you can, however, to take some days off. Even leaving a few hours early to spend time with friends or loved ones can help you recharge.
It's all about communication
Vacation time, like so many other things at a small business, is best handled by open, transparent communication. If the whole staff gets involved, sometimes it's possible to find solutions that otherwise may have been impossible.
For example, earlier this year, my cousin -- who runs a small doctor's office -- wanted to take a week off for a family cruise. Her co-workers stepped up to handle most of her tasks, but she was the only person available to run payroll. It took some finagling (and an early wake-up time due to the limits of cruise ship Wi-Fi), but she got her week off -- as long as she agreed to put in the few minutes it took to run payroll.
Maybe that meant she didn't get a full break, but she did get the week off she wanted (mostly). Talk to your people and take their best interests to heart (along with your company's best interests). That can make it possible to find vacation solutions that work for everyone.