Suzanne Lucas

Running a Small Business When You’re Out Sick

When you’re running a small business, you tend to put some serious thought into planning what you’ll do if one of your employees goes out on medical leave. But what happens if you get sick? What’s the procedure when you’re the one who lands in the hospital or has a baby?

Even if you’re the picture of health, it’s smart to plan for your own leave of absence from the company. Here’s what you need to do.

Before You Get Sick

First of all, take care of yourself. Entrepreneurs often struggle with burnout because they throw themselves into their business. You may think you can’t afford to take a vacation or even a weekend off — but if you don’t, you may land yourself a six-week mental health leave. Make sure you’re only running a small business, and not running yourself into the ground as well. Your company will benefit when you’re well-rested.

But, second, you need to make contingency plans while you’re healthy. There’s nothing you can do to guarantee that you’ll never get the flu, so be prepared. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What tasks can I alone perform?
  • Which documents can only I sign?
  • Are there clients that only I work with?
  • Does someone else have access to all of my files?

When you have the answers, figure out a plan to address each one of those tasks. Take paychecks: Do you sign them yourself? Can you authorize someone else to sign? Start introducing other staff to your key clients, even if you will still be the primary person to support that client. You want to have contingency plans in place for every aspect of your role.

This doesn’t mean you have to hire a new high-level employee. However, in the case of a long absence, it might make sense to interview a couple of consultants as backups — just enough to keep the business alive while you are on your leave.

While You’re Out

Of course, the work you do during your absence depends heavily on why you’re out. If you’ve broken your leg, you can probably still field calls and answer emails from your living room couch. After heart surgery, on the other hand, you’ll probably need complete rest. Use your best judgment to decide how involved you can be without hindering your recovery. After all, you have a business to run.

Designate one point of contact so you’re not inundated with requests that could be handled by someone else. Have that one person keep you updated, and keep everyone else away. It’s not being rude. It’s putting your health first.

Also make note of who shoulders extra work to keep your company running smoothly, and ensure they’re compensated appropriately. Sure, it’s an added cost — but can you afford to lose trustworthy employees? Whether it’s with a permanent pay increase, a bonus or something else of value, reward loyalty. Your second-in-command should receive financial remuneration for the added work.

When You Return

Don’t expect to snap back to your old self on day one. Listen to your doctor — if they say to take it easy, then take it easy.

Resume some of your work, but not necessarily all of it. If your employees handled things well in your absence and they enjoy the new tasks, let them keep them. Why? Because that frees you up to do whatever it is you do best, and it makes your business stronger for the future.

Use this time as an opportunity to review your health care plan and figure out how it could have been better for you. Evaluate if your current plan is the best one for your business, and update your benefits if necessary. Meet with your staff, too, to go over your health plan and discuss what they can do to maintain their health. Don’t be preachy, but do point out covered preventive resources like annual checkups and testing. You might also want to remind your employees about the importance of using vacation time, since a planned absence is much easier than an emergency one. Grounding these points in your own experience can make them more persuasive to your employees.

No one can predict the future, but you can prepare for it. You already work to strengthen your company so that it can weather any storm. Planning for your own medical leave is just another step in building your business’s future.


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