No vacation for you…

Because I work in Social Media and because I am kind of a dork for articles about leadership-type stuff, I follow the Harvard Business Review blog and found this little gem on how Work and Vacation Should Go Together.The author, Ron Ashkenas, suggests perhaps we should accept the fact that folks spend time working when they are theoretically off the clock or even when they are on vacation:

Maybe we need to accept the fact that the sharp demarcation between work and home is a thing of the past, and that the new normal is a life that integrates home and work more seamlessly.

I will confess I tend to check my work emails in the evening and it’s not unusual that I’ll wrap up a project after I get home, but I have to draw the line when it comes to my vacations. I am a vacation junky. I use my vacation time as fast as I can earn it. I love to travel and I’m as likely to take a Friday off to take a quick weekend trip when the airfares are good as I am to take a week off and run to Hawaii for the same reason. I cherish that time away and part of what makes it special is that it is MY time. I work hard and long the rest of the days, so why would I want to pollute my chance to take a break with a conference call?

Ashkenas goes on to say

…we can stop feeling guilty about scheduling calls during our vacations or checking our emails at night

How about not feeling guilty and also not scheduling calls during vacations?  I believe this kind of thinking sets a dangerous precedent that we are so important that work can’t survive without us. That simply is not true. If you have someone to back you up, good documentation, and a well-oiled team that you trust; they actually hum along just fine without you – they might even get a few extra things done when you’re gone. Or maybe they have to scratch their heads and puzzle a little over how to solve a problem in your absence. But is that such a horrible thing – for your team to have to stretch and challenge themselves?

Some people fear the mountain of work that will await them when they get back if they don’t check in while they are gone. I will tell you a little secret from someone who does not check even one email when I am on vacation. Emails do pile up, but with an out of office reply that informs people you are out, not checking email, and where they can get help, there is a point of diminishing returns. Somewhere in the middle of being gone, people stop emailing you because they already know you aren’t there and/or how to get the answers they need. Mostly what I am doing when I get back and am facing the mountain is deleting or filing emails that have already been dealt with – maybe that does take an investment of time when I first return to the office, but it’s a good way to catch up on what I missed and the small amount of time it takes to do the email clean-up far outweighs the cost of trying to field all those emails while you are out of the office.

Also, for me as a leader and a manager within my company, I believe my actions send as loud or louder a message than anything I say. If I spend all my time on vacation checking in, checking email, attempting to “integrate” my work and my vacation, then I am sending a message loud and clear to my people that they aren’t allowed to take real vacations either. In Go Ahead, Take that Break, author  Whitney Johnson says it well when she notes:

We may think we’re being responsive, even impressive, when we send work-related e-mails at midnight, on the weekend, or vacation, but those who work for us will see us as establishing a norm. If you will take some real down-time without the constant tug of technology or a to-do list absorbing your thoughts, you will give your employees permission to do the same.

There seems to be some sentiment in American work culture these days that says if we stop for even a moment to take a break that we will lose all our momentum and spend all our time scrambling to catch back up to ourselves. I think that is frankly poppycock and comes from some place of fear, not reason. It’s been shown time and time again that periods of rest actually make us more productive. Instead of integration of our work and our rest, I think we need to reclaim our ability to stop and smell the flowers once in awhile. And in the camp of an oldy, but a goody,  No one ever said on their deathbed,”I wish I had spent more time in the office.”

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