When was the last time you truly took a vacation? You know the kind – Clark Griswold style where you pack up the family for weeks of adventure without a care in the world! With the end of summer hopefully approaching (I’m SO done with record 100 degree temps in Houston), you may be trying to fit in a last minute vacation. Vacations have been a topic in the news with President Obama electing to take time-off when many thought he should be working. I took my first vacation of the year in August and it’s not something I’m proud of. While I’ve been absent from FOT, it wasn’t due to vacations but to the demands of being a first-time parent, P&L owner and honestly just not enough hours in the day. Excuses, excuses….I know and I must be a better example to my team by actually taking time off!
So can leaders and/or HR pros really take vacations? We are all tethered to our jobs via technology, so unless you are going someplace really, really remote or your company has an awesome policy like Employee Benefit Solutions where they confiscate your smart phone and laptop for a month after 5 years of service and tell you to “just stay away” (the really cool name for their program) – chances are you are checking emails at least once a day.
After the question of “can you” is “should you”? Is the timing right? Have you prepared your team enough? What is going on in the business and are there other leaders out at the same time you’ll be gone? I personally believe you are not doing your job as a leader if you can’t really leave and trust your team to have your back. Yes, I still checked emails while I was away, but I knew my team could handle anything that came up without needing my two cents. I think this applies whether you are leading a small team or you’re the CEO…likely up for debate about President Obama, but do you really think he wasn’t connected to what was going on every day he was out of D.C.?
Additionally, the globalization of our workplaces means taking a look at your PTO practices and also understanding the cultural elements of taking time off. My friends in Europe laugh at Americans who think 3-4 weeks of vacation is excessive. Our multi-national clients all have negotiable programs and PTO is one of the easiest perks for an organization to give on – but are your people really using all their time? After having a child, I cringe at remembering the many moms I’ve worked with over the years who returned just after 6 weeks of paid LOA. There is no way you are physically, mentally or emotionally ready to be back at 100% after just 6 weeks, yet it is expected in the U.S. if you are in a leadership role.
Lastly, there is the issue of preparing to go on vacation and then the work you face upon your return. There have been times I’ve spent more time working on the front and back end of a vacation than the actual time off itself. Is it worth it, and how do you get yourself out of that unhealthy state?
Time off to decompress, refresh or do something meaningful for yourself or your family is absolutely worth it. Organizations have to look at outdated policies and unintended penalties, which prevent employees from really disconnecting. More and more people are looking for meaningful work AND meaningful time away from work to volunteer, spend time on professional development or just be with family. If you are one of those HR folks who brag about never using all of your PTO, you’re probably not the right person to be structuring programs for the go-forward.
Set the example and truly leave! The exotic tan or diminished bags under your eyes will encourage others to do the same, which ultimately benefits the health of your entire organization. And while the Griswold vacation may be a thing of the past, don’t let yourself get to such a state that your vacation ends up like theirs either: “This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest, a quest for fun. I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun. We’re gonna have so much #$%^ing fun they’re gonna need plastic surgeons to remove the smiles from our +$#*ing faces.”