I have always loved going on vacation. Taking a vacation is something I consider to be very important. I continuously look forward to the days when I get to go to the sea side, drive to the mountains or take a trip to a foreign land. I do also look forward to coming back home, rested and refreshed, full of ideas and energy. But people are different.
A few days ago I was surprised by a statement of my colleague. He said that we can meet anytime during the summer since he will not be going on a vacation. He is someone who takes his managing position very seriously and since his company is facing a lot of new challenges and projects during the summer time he simply feels it is his duty and responsibility not to go on summer vacation. Hmmm. His duty and responsibility? Does this mean that responsible employees do not take vacations? And if so, am I irresponsible? And does this mean that our society rewards those who would do everything for their employers, even at the expense of their own health?
If vacations are proven to be good for both our physical and out mental health, why do we not take them?
Most of the research on this topic confirms that the majority of people benefit from a long vacation (emphasis: actually long) and that taking one is very good for our mental and physical health. Prolonged weekends and daily vacation are also good for our health but they are not enough to truly rest and recover. 2-3 weeks vacations are good for our overall well-being – they give us more energy, boost our creativity and enable us to cope with day-to-day challenges. After the vacation time we are also more open to cooperate with our co-workers and help them. In general, we are more satisfied with our lives after taking a vacation. They also reduces the possibility of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and the possibility of rapid coronary death (for men, 30% reduction in the chance of heart attack and 50% for women). Amazing, isn’t it? In fact, everyone, both employees and companies, should strive to have and use as much vacations as possible. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Two main reasons people don’t take vacations
By blurring the boundaries between private and business life, and by being available to work at all times with a little help from various devices, the concept of completely shutting off is becoming more and more difficult. In the last years, I have seen many people who are on vacation, but only in terms of change to their location. They are not able to not work and get work out of their minds; they read their work e-mails and have their phones with them the whole time, you know, in case of emergencies. There are many who say that they cannot just disappear for 2-3 weeks from the office, as they would experience too much stress with the work they had to do once they come back. Some even say they are unable to take proper vacations as there is no one in the office that could truly replace them. So what is it that we are actually talking about here?
Stress, the edge of burnout and an inability to disconnect from work
Permanent fatigue, chronic stress and being at the threshold of burnout, possibly with no vacation leave. These are the challenges of many employees in the Western world today. The amount of employers creating or enabling these types of company cultures is alarming. If we want to be a responsible employer with satisfied and efficient employees, then we need to take a good look at what we are doing. We should encourage our employees to strive for a “work-life balance” but in the true sense of the phrase – to set conditions that will maintain their mental and physical health. This will make them more productive, more creative and enable them to come up with new ideas. Perhaps even more importantly, if we believe so as leaders, then we ourselves need to start acting differently.
As leaders, our beliefs and behaviors always influences our employees. If we do not go on vacations, if we do not completely shut off work and if we expect our employees to be available and accessible also during their holidays, then all our words come up empty.
When you’re in a vicious cycle, it’s very difficult to find a way out
Very often, our key talents and key employees are those that are the most dedicated to their work and their company. They would do everything to prove that they are the most efficient and that they bring the best results. The want to make a difference. But many times they are at the threshold of burnout, which they are not always aware of, or they notice it when it’s too late. They are in a vicious cycle – their productivity drops, so they work even more and more intensely in order to make up for it, which makes the situation even worse. They may even go on vacations, but the thought of not bringing work with them doesn’t even cross their minds. They respond to their calls and check the emails throughout the entire time. If they also have the misfortune of their leaders not discouraging this behavior, or even worse, behaving the exact same way, then we have a serious problem. Do you know that we have come so far that some companies have even begun to offer financial rewards to encourage employees to take advantage of their vacations as a whole and not work during that time?
Responsibility is on both sides
As in everything else, the relationship between the company and the employee is two-sided and should be maintained and taken care of from both ends. Each exists for each other and because of each other – they are connected and dependent. As employees and individuals, we bear the responsibility to make decisions and act in a way that strengthens both out physical and our mental conditions. As companies and leaders, we bear the responsibility to create conditions that enable our employees to reach these optimal levels of health and become the best versions of themselves, making our companies the best they can be.
Therefore, J.K., I hope you are reading this blog and decide to take a long summer vacation this time. Not because you have to, but because you’ve earned it!