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No time off for one third of UK sole traders

Nearly one and a half million sole traders across the UK were unable to take any days as annual leave in the past 12 months, according to new research.

A survey of SME decision-makers by Direct Line for Business has found that 16% said they had not taken a day off in the past year. This figure rose to 33% for sole traders; it was 18% among those with less than ten employees.

The average SME leader took just 13 days of annual leave last year - considerably less than the legal minimum. However, on average, business owners had to cancel three days of annual leave every year because of work, which means that nearly one in five of their days off were lost.

When asked why they could not take holiday, business owners cited the following reasons:

  • 26% said the business would lose income;
  • 22% said they could not switch off on holiday;
  • 17% thought their business would struggle without them;
  • 17% said they felt guilty taking time off;
  • 14% said they couldn’t spend more time with friends and family because of work;
  • 13% said they did not believe business leaders should take much time off;
  • 8% said their business had previously faced a critical issue when they had been away.

On a more positive note, a quarter of the SME owners surveyed said that the number of days’ holiday they were able to take every year had increased over the past five years, compared to 17% who said that it had decreased.

In addition, 14% said they have more flexibility to take time off as a result of working at an SME compared to working at a larger company. A further one in five said that while it’s harder to take time off, it’s worth it for the added flexibility they are allowed in other areas of their life.

Matt Boatwright, head of Direct Line for Business, said: “Running a small business can be a stressful job, which is why it is even more important that proprietors afford themselves a holiday … Ultimately, nothing is more important than the health of a business owner, so taking a holiday not only allows them to take some much-needed time off to relax but also prevents burnout and subsequent business issues further down the line.”