I remove myself from my familiar environs, shut down my business and go off to exercise the right side of my brain. This one week is truly a high point of my year.
As I anticipate my time off, I am shocked and chagrined by the number of business leaders in my network who share with me that they do not take vacation. Citing business commitments and deadlines, they claim to be too busy to take time off. I find this disturbing on two levels: first, their inability to break from business hurts themselves and their families, and second, it provides a poor example for the rest of the organization.
What must leaders do to step off the treadmill of work? Read on to get my take on how leaders can model and support downtime in their organizations.
Enjoy sun, beach, woods, mountains, cities. Relax and renew!
— AliceAlice Waagen, PhD Founder, www.workforcelearning.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Leader’s Guide to Vacations
By Dr. Alice Waagen
Let me share with you some disturbing data:
- According to the 2009 Vacation Deprivation Study conducted by Expedia, 30% of Americans fail to use all of their earned vacation days. On average, 2 days are left unused every year.
- The American Psychological Association reports that 44% of American workers continue to work using mobile devices while on vacation.
- The Huffington Post, reporting on an online poll, cites that 1 in 4 employees stress out about taking vacation or personal leave they have earned while others reported that they were not allowed to take the vacation that they earned.
What is wrong with this picture? Vacation, time away from work, to recharge and renew promotes both physical and mental health for everyone.
When I find a person reluctant to take leave, I usually find someone worried about how they will deliver work commitments if they are not at their desk. How much of this fear is real is hard to determine. The gut-wrenching downsizing brought about by the recession has left some permanent dents to the belief that there is any job security anymore. For employees still dealing with financial worries brought on by job loss, family medical problems, housing market crash and other demons of the last few years, the fear is very real and tangible.
What can business leaders do to encourage the use of vacation and other forms of paid time off? Here are my top 3 tips to get people out the door:
- Model what you expect from others. If you are too busy to take time off it implies others should do likewise. Plan your time off; announce your plans including how the work and decisions will be covered in your absence. If you can leave the work without anxiety, you are endorsing them to do the same.
- As soon as possible, review all major deadlines and commitments due this summer. As much as is realistic, extend some dates into September. Take the pressure off the 8 weeks of July and August then communicate your expectation to your leadership team that they use the slack to encourage vacations, not to dump addition work commitments on the staff.
- Discourage the electronic leash, staff continuing to work remotely on mobile devices while their family relaxes. Understandably work can’t come to a complete halt but real vacation begins when one can enter a non-work mindset. This won’t happen if they check emails every hour.
A recent study conducted by the Center for Economic and Policy Research coined the term “no-vacation nation” to describe vacation policy in the United States. Their study found that the United States is the only country in the group that does not require employers to provide paid vacation time. While I am not suggesting that we want government-mandated vacation policy (heaven forbid!) I am imploring business leaders to ensure that their existing leave programs are used as they have been designed, to reward employees for long weeks and months of hard work. Well-designed benefits programs and HR policies serve as retention tools, rewarding hard work and effort to ensure that your business gets more of it. If keeping folks at their desks in July and August results in them leaving in September and October for a more employee-friendly organization, you may meet deadlines at the expense of losing key talent. Not good business strategy in my book.