The Value of Vacation

We are now two weeks away from summer’s end. It’s time to get back to the grind after enjoying long weekends at the beach, backyard barbecues, weeklong trips abroad, and lazy days reading a book on a hammock –devoid of email, smart phones, and technology in general. Does this sound reminiscent of your summer? Statistically, it probably doesn’t.

The Value of Vacation | Bibliomotion, Inc.

We are now two weeks away from summer’s end. It’s time to get back to the grind after enjoying long weekends at the beach, backyard barbecues, weeklong trips abroad, and lazy days reading a book on a hammock –devoid of email, smart phones, and technology in general. Does this sound reminiscent of your summer? Statistically, it probably doesn’t.

According to this TLNT article, Americans need to get serious about vacations. The average, private sector US worker receives sixteen paid vacation days and holidays, but only takes about twelve. Additionally, the US is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday.

Paid Vacations & Holidays by Country
Courtesy of CEPR.net

Workers in France, Spain, and Germany, however, are guaranteed 25 – 30 paid vacation days per year, and report taking all the time they’re given. These countries have higher unemployment rates than the US, but continue to offer generous paid-vacation time, combined with paid-national holidays, despite struggling economies.

Vacation Deprivation by Country
Courtesy of Expedia

Business professionals in particular seem to exude significant stress when taking vacations, even when they are paid and able to do so. They report feeling guilty and incapable of unwinding, experiencing a compulsive need to check their email, check in with their staff, or complete tasks that could should wait until they return. Are they afraid of dropping the ball, without ever actually letting go?

Here, some of our authors weigh in:

Allison Rimm, author of The Joy of Strategy (September 2013)Joy of Strategy

The hyper connectivity of the American workforce has created an expectation that since we can reach out 24/7, someone ought to be reachable 24/7. Not healthy and not necessary. Technology is a tool, which when managed effectively, is a great efficiency enhancer. I love mine for sure. But I manage expectations and advise my clients to do the same. It is up to organizational leaders to set reasonable expectations of connectivity, but that is not enough. As leaders, we have to create a culture that supports these expectations. As long as companies reward ever-increasing connectivity to work through praise and promotions or indirectly with statements that convey approval of midnight emails or that vacation phone calls are a sign of an admirable commitment to the company, this behavior will never change regardless of the number of vacation days available. I’ve seen too many organizations reinforce the notion that taking time off is a weakness or that someone who works round the clock and round the calendar somehow is more loyal.

This behavior is unhealthy and it reinforces unhealthy workplaces over time. True joy is hard to accomplish when you’re exhausted, overextended and prevented from really unplugging and getting a real rest. Vacations are necessary to recharge and refuel both physically and spiritually. Americans should take a page out of those European countries where people take their time off and savor it. Those cultures put a high premium on family and leisure time and there is no dishonor in taking it. In fact, that’s the expectation. So, leaders and individuals need to step up and model that behavior until everyone in the workplace believes it is truly expected, not only tolerated.

As someone once said of employees showing up sick at work and putting their coworkers at risk, they are guilty of presentee-ism when being absent is clearly the wiser choice. Perhaps a language change would help reinforce a new cultural norm.

Liz O’Donnell, author of Mogul, Mom, & Maid (October 2013)

First of all, I always use my vacation time. But I’ll admit, I very rarely unplug. I like to keep one eye on what’s happening at work so that I can choose if and how I engage. I think children are built in balance so even if I read or hear a stressful message from work, hanging out with my kids will erase that stress as soon as I re-engage with the family.

As a working mother, I have too little time with my kids and so I cherish every minute. While it may seem counter-intuitive, I think that attitude helps me cope when work interrupts my vacation. I don’t mind most work interruptions during my time off because it’s still better to take a conference call from Cape Cod with my kids, for example, than it is from a corporate cube. And I have technology to thank for that.

It’s the avoidable interruptions that wear on me – like the boss who calls to “touch base” about something that could wait. Too many corporate cultures value face time and 24/7 access over results and productivity – and that causes unnecessary stress for workers looking to take some time to relax and renew.

The US is the second-most productive country in the world, but only marginally better than Germany and France. If taking time off is actually linked to increased productivity and decreased stress, it seems that we could all benefit from a little break.