‘Tis the Season to Use Your Vacation Days

December 10, 2015 Sarah Payne

The holiday season is officially in full swing, with only a few short weeks left until New Years. While this has traditionally been a season when people schedule vacation time with family and loved ones, research shows that has changed.

The lost week

Project: Time Off, an initiative of the U.S. Travel Association, recently published a report on the effects of the new normal–the work martyr: “Americans are taking less vacation than at any point in the last forty years–just 16 vacation days today, down from an average of over 20 days taken 15 years ago.” This ‘lost week’ of vacation “is wiping out vacation traditions and taking a heavy toll, particularly on children.”

And even when we are home with our families, we’re increasingly less present. The report summarizes findings from a survey of 754 children ages 8 to 14 on their parents’ work habits: “Working parents may think they are shielding their children from work stress, but a commanding six in seven children report seeing their parents bring work stress home. Further, 75 percent of kids say that their parent is unable to stop working while at home.”

The ideal worker

This habit of always being online and available, even to the detriment of time spent with our families, is a symptom of many modern workplace cultures. In an interview with Globoforce, WorkHuman 2015 speaker and author Brigid Schulte explained: “In our workplaces today, there’s a very powerful notion that the best workers, the ‘ideal’ worker, is someone who comes in early, stays late, eats lunch at their desk, travels at the drop of a hat, never has to rush off for the preschool play or child care pick up.” The ideal worker is “single-mindedly work devoted.”

A more human approach

How can we as managers and leaders change this pattern?

The first step is to set an example for our employees by showing that we value and appreciate how important time off is for our well being. If we continue to leave vacation days on the table or send emails through all hours of the night, what kind of messages are we sending employees? What kind of culture are we perpetuating?

Brigid explains: “We humans are wired, if anything, to conform. We evolved because we’re social creatures. We help one another, cooperate and are wired to fit in. Workplaces and managers need to recognize that whatever atmosphere they create – through both policy and informal culture – people will work toward that.”

We can start to create the right work atmospheres by giving employees choices in rewards that include experiences, and encouraging employees to redeem for travel or family outings that help them unplug.

One positive step in the right direction is last month’s announcement that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will take two months of paternity leave following the birth of his daughter Max. Facebook offers male and female employees up to four months of paid leave, which can be taken any time during the child’s first year. Zuckerberg is leading by example and showing employees it’s OK to actually take the time the company offers them.

The business case for time off

There’s also a ton of research now that proves the business case for time off. In a Harvard Business Review article published over the summer, WorkHuman speaker Shawn Achor outlines reasons why taking a vacation makes good business sense. Did you know it can actually increase your chances of getting a raise or promotion? According to Project: Time Off, people who take all of their vacation time have a 6.5% higher chance of getting a promotion or a raise than people who leave 11 or more days of paid time off on the table. Taking time off also improves important business metrics. Shawn Achor’s research shows that with a positive, engaged brain, productivity improves by 31%, sales increase by 37%, and creativity and revenues can triple.

So for the sake of your family, your well being, and your business, don’t leave any of those vacation days on the table this year. As you make holiday plans in the coming weeks, I encourage you to ruminate on this excerpt from Brigid’s interview on what she wishes she could tell her younger self:

“I’ve always taken time for family. But I used to feel guilty. I think that’s common in overwork cultures, or when you do the kind of work that’s never ‘done.’ And that’s pretty much everything that isn’t manufacturing. But I don’t feel guilty anymore.

My kids are 14 and 17, and though people told me the time would fly, when I was in the thick of it when they were little, I didn’t believe them. It felt like this pressure and time starvation and overwhelm would never end. But you know what? It does. And it ends fast.

If I could do anything, I’d tell my younger self – and I’d tell younger workers – don’t worry so much. Do good work. When it’s done, be done, put your devices down and just be present with your family. Don’t wait for the weekend or the big birthday party. Enjoy the beauty of the ordinary moment. That’s really how we live our lives.”

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