Rob’s world seems to be spinning out of control. His desk is piled high with stacks of project data. His email inbox keeps sending him overload messages. He’s often talking on his mobile phone and his office phone at the same time. He’s exhausted during the day but he can’t sleep at night. Why? Rob hasn’t taken a real vacation in more than three years.
Rob oversees a team of 25 people, with four direct reports. He consistently works 60-65 hour weeks. He’s very hesitant to even cut back on his hours because he doesn’t know how he’ll get it all done and still meet his bottom line numbers. A vacation seems like a distant dream. Besides, if he is gone even for a few days, his boss might figure out he’s not indispensable.
One day, over coffee, Rob’s co-worker, Janene, shares an article about how vacations from work improve productivity. The article says:
If you don’t use your vacation days
- Relationships suffer
- Health deteriorates
- Enthusiasm disappears
- Productivity goes down
- Burnout and depression result
- Life balance ceases to exist
Rob realizes that every one of those factors is true for him. The article goes on to discuss the true value of vacations:
A vacation benefits you because
- It improves job satisfaction by minimizing burnout
- Relationships with co-workers and family improve
- Your morale turns positive
- Productivity and creativity increase
Rob is still floundering in his mountain of paperwork when he realizes it’s time for his monthly call with his business coach. He hasn’t met any of his coaching benchmarks for the month so he decides to throw the whole vacation issue in his coach’s lap and ask for advice. If you see yourself in this picture, here are four of the coach’s tips to help you get off the treadmill and reclaim your life and your sanity.
1. Ask for time off when there aren’t any major projects or deadlines.
Yes, it would be great if you could hop on a plane tomorrow, but that’s not meeting either the company’s needs or your best interests. Instead, start your own mental vacation by planning. Where would you like to go? Are you an active vacationer—hiking, whitewater rafting, sailing? Or would you rather spend time at a spa or a retreat? Start to collect brochures and trip information. Pick three or four dates that might be possible.
2. Look at your current workload and choose a time off after a major project is complete.
You don’t want to just drop everything and go, leaving pieces behind for your co-workers or your boss to pick up. Determine a completion date for your most critical project and develop a plan to delegate other responsibilities to your direct reports. As a negotiating point when talking to your boss (see below) offer to work ahead on your part of a project so others can fill in around you while you’re away.
3. Give plenty of notice
The more lead time you provide, the more prepared your boss can be. What’s realistic depends a lot on your own workload, your team situation, and your company’s culture and guidelines about taking time off. Have three or four possible dates in mind so your boss can have some alternatives to think about.
4. Request the time off in-person
Never request vacation time in an email. Talk to your boss in person and do it when he or she is in a good mood and less likely to be stressed or overwhelmed. This could be on a Friday afternoon, but definitely not first thing Monday morning!
Need more ammunition? There’s plenty of research, old and new, to support the time-off concept. A study done over 100 years ago by Dr. Ernst Abbe, a German researcher, evaluated work schedules at Zeiss Optical Works and found that reducing hours by more than 10 percent actually increased worker output. In 1914, Henry Ford appalled his peers by moving production from a six-day to a five-day week. Output increased, while production costs decreased.
There’s a lesson here. Time off is an important part of your work life. You’ve earned it—now take it.