I was talking to a friend today and he told me he was going to take a two-week vacation for the first time in many years. It made me think about my last, and only two week vacation, 33 years ago. It was an epic journey with a good buddy of mine to Alaska and it was a blast. Since it’s the first week of August, much of Europe will be shutting down for the month. Family vacations have traditionally been a summer time rite of passage. But a few facts about this fading American tradition:
- The Conference Board reported that 40% of consumers had no plans to take a vacation over the next six months, the lowest percentage recorded by the group in 28 years.
- 57% of American workers had unused vacation time and in a typical year, that amounts to 175 million vacation days not taken.
- Since 1970, Americans on average work an additional 568 hours per year, about another 10 hours per week.
- 23% of American workers in the private sector do not get any paid vacation time.
- The average vacation has been reduced from 7 to 4 days in average duration – by CHOICE.
I had an assignment in Germany over a three-year period and my clients scoffed at the idea of a one-week vacation. They claimed you needed three weeks to have a real vacation, one week to unwind, one week to really relax and one week for reentry. My English peers in my last corporate role also jealously guarded their vacation time. Those economies seem to hum right along despite all the absences of these employees. Why does this seem to be such an American malady?
In many respects I think the reason is that we have let technology run amok and it has created an artificial reality where busyness is now equated with our value to an organization. We can’t seem to escape the email, the texts, the calls, and the meetings. Many of these also cross continents and therefore multiple time zones, complicating matters even further. What it says to us is that if we are busy, we must be important. How often do you hear people droning on about how busy they are, the endless meetings they are in and the 300 emails they get on a daily basis?
The executives I have come to admire the most always seem to be the most responsive but also the most in demand. They manage this busyness rather than let themselves be led around by it. These are the people who do find ways to take their vacations, so they can enjoy their families, indulge in their passions and recharge their batteries. I tell my executive clients that because of the substantial amount of stress they are regularly exposed to, by the end of every quarter they should have their vacation time planned for the following quarter, even if it’s an extended weekend. Having a break to look forward to, a release, is always a positive thing.
A couple years ago I came across an interesting article in the Fast Company Newsletter by Patty Azzarello, titled: “Think You Can’t Take a Vacation? The Sound Business Reasons You Really Should”. This is adapted from her reasons why the business is better off without you for a while:
- It shows you are a competent leader. If you can plan, delegate and free up time for yourself, and not leave a train wreck while you’re away, it is a positive reflection on your leadership skills.
- Nobody is impressed that you haven’t taken a vacation in years. The old saying is that all work and no play makes Jack or Jill a dull person. People do not respect or admire someone who can’t get away.
- You will motivate your team. They will appreciate your example of allowing yourself to have a life, as long as you don’t barrage them every day with check-in’s and email dumps. A couple scheduled check-in’s on key projects are okay but don’t go somewhere and just keep on working.
- Your team can be more productive. You may not like to hear it but the absence of all the stuff that you throw at them on a regular basis gives them a chance to catch up on their stuff.
- When you’re out of the loop, it allows them to develop and grow. If you’re unreachable, they’ll have to stretch themselves, learn and take some risks. Don’t undo all they have done when you get back just because it’s different, however.
- You will be more productive. When you have a chance to reflect and mull over some tough issues without the day-to-day pressures you normally toil under, you may be surprised at the insights that present themselves.
- It may help you prioritize better. In the busyness that is our world, priorities are overwhelmed by the adrenaline rush of constant action. Stepping out of that world might help your perspective.
- You and your company benefit. People who indulge in interests outside of work also deal with pressures and disappointments in the workplace with more resilience and confidence. Besides everyone needs a break.
So ask yourself:
- Do I feel I’m too busy or important to take a vacation?
- Could I be stifling the development of my team?
- Can I find a way to let go and relax?
I look forward to your thoughts on this. Make sure you leave a comment below to share what you learned and how you’re going to use it.