Yuletide cheer and relaxation are set to elude scores of SME bosses this year, according to research, with many of them gearing up to treat the festive season as just an ordinary spell in the office.
In a new poll, business cards maker Vistaprint found that more than three quarters of SME chiefs are planning to work in some capacity over the Christmas period, with only 12% determined to switch off for the whole stretch. Indeed, more than half of the respondents expect to be working on Christmas Day itself. 
Within that segment, two thirds reckon they will be doing around six hours of work on the big day, while 18% think they will be at their desks for a mammoth 10 hours – all but wiping out their ability to take part in the day’s festivities. Some 17% of those Christmas Day workers are looking to catch up on paperwork that has gone astray during busy periods of the year. Even among respondents who are eager to down tools completely on Christmas Day, almost two thirds are planning to leap right back into action on Boxing Day, with many of them planning to work on New Year’s Day, too.
Feedback to the poll indicated that one of the biggest drivers behind this behaviour was that SME leaders are facing a challenge to make their brands and services stand out amid the general hubbub of Christmas – with many of them hoping to gain a competitive edge that will sweep them into the New Year. Other factors include the need to solve cash-flow problems and a desire to meet enhanced demand for products and services.
However, Vistaprint director of customer strategy Simon Braier said: “Small business owners put their hearts and souls into their businesses and naturally at key times of the year this pressure increases. But Christmas is also an important time for family, and we’d like to encourage small business owners whenever possible to take a well-deserved rest during this period. Returning to their business after spending some quality time with their family can help business owners bring fresh ideas and a renewed sense of drive to their work, ensuring a strong start to the New Year.” 
What kind of risks could SME leaders incur with this relentless drive to battle on through work over Christmas?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “This goes right to the heart of the classic work-life balance debate, which is well worth thinking about if you’re eager to be a good leader. On one side, we have a group of people arguing that we must compartmentalise our lives, because we have finite time resources – so, in order to lead happy and satisfying lives, we must be very strict with ourselves over how many hours we allocate to each of those compartments. On the other side, meanwhile, we have people saying that if only we used our time more efficiently, cleverly and smartly, we would generate additional energy that would help us expand our available time resources.”
Cooper explains: “In terms of evaluating these specific findings, it all comes down to the extent to which people find work energising. If you are doing something you love, you are likely to feel happier while you’re doing it than when you’re not doing it. So, one of the issues that leaders in this poll may have is that they’d rather be hard at work than turning their attention to almost anything else. Now, of course, if they want to sustain happy relationships with their families – plus active social lives and healthy lifestyles – then it’s important for them to devote the appropriate time resources to those areas of life.”
That said, she points out: “Others may be caught in a worrying spiral of overwork just to stay afloat, grappling with cash-flow problems and the spectre of business failure. But those individuals must also understand that if they are only ever working, their health – in physical, psychological and emotional terms – is going to suffer. So there needs to be an awareness of that. If they’re paying attention to other parts of their lives, they will see that giving their minds a rest over Christmas is likely to help them come up with new ideas when January comes around. So in that sense, there’s a lot to be said for standing back from business-related frustrations and refreshing your perspective.”
Cooper adds: “On the flipside of that, perhaps some SME leaders who are really up against it are struggling to prop up ships that should really be sinking, because their business models simply aren’t working. But again, the realisation that it is time to let go and move on to something new may only be possible with the benefit of some time out to reflect.”
For further thoughts on the issues raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s learning resources on the healthy workplace