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Sign Company Owner Can’t Unplug from Work

Weigh in on his quandary in “The Case of the Vacation Trepidation.”




WE HAD AN UNOFFICIAL pool going in the office and shop for how long it would take for Bill, our boss and owner of Norbert’s Signs in Florissant, MO, to check in with us from his vacation. And even though more than half of the guesses were less than four hours, no one had the actual time: 25 minutes. Bill and his wife Cathy weren’t even on the highway yet when Bill called about the Wedgewood wall sign project. We could hear Cathy telling him to leave us alone and watch the road.

I was sitting at the last light before 270 and I remembered something from the site survey that I just needed to double check… so, yeah, I called the office. Cathy is telling me to watch the road and we’re sitting at a red light! I mean, Norbert’s is my sign company and I’ve never been away for more than three days. This 10-day trip to the beach in North Carolina that we’ve just started will be longer by an entire week! I know, I know I’ve got to get away and let go — a proverbial bus, right? — but it ain’t easy.


Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are NOT a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.


Created by ROLF L’MAO, Signs of the Times’ mascot. Email him at

Illustrations by Karina Marga Cuizon

We don’t know whether to be worried for the guy — he’s never been away this long before, not even close — or whether to be a little offended. We know Bill would never mean it that way, but still, a little offended, a little bit. And it’s so surprising because he’s personally shown us and then observed us doing everything we’d need to cover for him while he’s gone. He can be a little nervous at times when he’s out of his element. You know, like now. He’s probably on 70 East now, ready to cruise for hundreds of miles.

Cathy has her headphones on, listening to her audiobook. I’m driving through a dead zone of radio so of course, alone with my thoughts they go right to the shop. Not because I don’t think I have the greatest employees in the world; I do. I know it’s me and I’ve always been a worrier. I like to verify. I only stopped printing out online order verifications and bill payments a couple of years ago. It’s all part of why I need this vacation, my wife says.

To his credit, after that first call a good three hours passed and we were wondering if Bill was finally cutting loose and belting out Elton John songs with Cathy, or if he was just driving through a part of the country where he lost his cell signal. We would have been able to report, happily, that no crises had erupted, nay, no fires in the shop nor floods in the bathrooms, no casualties to report, sir! Oh, and Rose had remembered the same detail from the site survey, by the way. Hey, we got this!

In another hour, when I switch driving with Cathy, I’ll be able to check email — even though I have an “out of office” set… but if I do, Cathy will get after me again. And rightly so. I’ve just got to get those thoughts out of my head. Easier said than done, believe you me. I’ve just got to be strong. I know I’m gonna think about my email. I just can’t check it. I can’t. I won’t.

Well, we don’t know how he did it but he did it! Bill managed to resist calling, texting or emailing for the rest of the day. We’re closing up the office and shop, everyone checking everything twice. We don’t want him contacted if we didn’t set an alarm right. We hope he can keep it up and actually begin to enjoy his vacation.

An hour and a half longer than I thought it would take us due to a wreck and a lot of construction, but Cathy and I made it, enjoyed a refreshment and are now walking on the beach. “Just look at the ocean,” Cathy says to me. “Yes,” I reply. “Just look at it.”


The Big Questions

  • What can you, or do you do about owners or managers who have a hard time letting go of work while on vacation? Are you an owner or manager like that, and if so, what do you do?
Carroll B.
Goffstown, NH

It’s hard to let go. This tiny little shop is my baby and I love it. But a lot comes before it and has to for my well being. Working late at night to get work done so I can go to my kid’s games is a simple workaround. But for the most part, starting a month out before we go away I start telling people I will be on vacation. We go on a Disney Cruise and service is non-existent on the boat so unplugging is easy. It’s the ports where we can jump on open wifi that I look like Indiana Jones searching for the Ark. But in the end… you have to trust that you hired the best and they have control. There is nothing you can do when your feet are in the sand and, to be honest, that feels a lot better.

Dan W.
Tucson, AZ

Wish him a bon voyage, and trust in vacationing to properly distract him. If that doesn’t work, nothing you can do would have. In short, do nothing.

Moses Lake, WA

It’s a great feeling to see how far you have come in business; however, accept the fact that if you would like your business to live beyond you must delegate and document all the systems and procedures so it’s not all living inside your head. If you don’t document your business, you don’t own it; it owns you. Trust the ones that you have entrusted and take vacation. This is a real pressure cooker and systems check. It helps identify the weaknesses. Why did you go into business for yourself? Is your business serving you or are you a servant to your business? I get more done in the days coming up to a vacation because I know I am going to be gone. It doesn’t happen unless I put it on the calendar. Be thankful you have come this far. Recognize that you will be a better human if you take the time to reconnect with nature, with your loved ones, with your ‘Why’s.’ Realize your business will be here when you get back.

Bob B.
Oakdale, CT

I am this guy! And my previous boss was also him. I think this is very common not only among signshop owners but in almost every small business everywhere. In my case over the last 20-some years the only time it was easy for me to not be calling the shop often was the year my son dropped my cell phone in the pool. I went five days with only one call in the morning to the shop each day because of that. It was a wonderful vacation.


Rolf L'mao is Signs of the Times' mascot. Contact Rolf at

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