Are We Having Fun Yet? How to Vacation Like You Mean It
Research is clear that unrelenting work can decrease motivation, creativity and productivity and that taking a break can rejuvenate and energize us. Vacations can be one part of the solution, although what “counts” as vacation is highly personal. If sitting on a beach makes you antsy, you may need something more active to take your mind off of work. For others, nothing beats staying home without a schedule.
Still, how you think about vacation depends a lot on where you live. While business has gone global, attitudes about and benefits around time off remain country specific.
Your address and your vacation
We’re not talking about whether you’re staying at a local campground or The Ritz, but rather how much your country of residence impacts if you enjoy paid vacation at all and how much. The United States ranks last among developed nations in terms of paid leave and does not require paid vacation time. And still, Americans often don’t use the vacation time they do have.
For workers in Europe, the picture is far sunnier. In Austria, employees can enjoy up to 36 days off. Almost all UK workers are entitled to more than five weeks of paid holidays per year, according to gov.uk.
Folks in the Land Down Under also enjoy generous vacation time with workers getting about four weeks of annual leave plus 13 public holidays in Australia. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports in an article titled Australia: A New Age of Leave Entitlements, the lengths companies are going to on the continent to become the employer of choice. Perks include creative programs such as a “rebalance leave” with as much time off as needed to recover from intense periods of work offered by a consulting firm; birthday leave; paid leave to perform volunteer work; “special leave” offered by the University of Sydney to attend to tasks such as moving; and “lifestyle leave” that enables workers to purchase additional vacation time or take unpaid leave.
Post-pandemic research conducted by business process consultants, New View Strategies, found that the average yearly paid time off (PTO) enjoyed by Americans is 15 days and they take 13 of them. The average PTO enjoyed by Europeans is 21 days and they take all 21. One in ten Europeans takes 30 or more days of PTO per year.
One area of commonality shared on both continents is that well over half of American and European workers say their boss has contacted them during PTO. And many workers feel guilty for taking time off at all.
Making vacation work for you
To paraphrase a corporate ad slogan that dates back to the 1930s, the best vacations provide a pause that refreshes. If you have been on vacation but don’t unwind, relax, recharge and return re-energized, it may do more harm than good.
Given the intensity with which many people work today, your body may be sipping frozen margaritas on a beach while your brain is still processing emails, writing reports and re-hashing a touchy conversation with a colleague. A New York Times article featuring the input of behavior experts and neuroscientists, says you need to make a deliberate shift from work mode to vacation mode to benefit from the experience. Consider these suggestions for actually taking a vacation, even if you decide to stay home.
- Leave your daily context behind. You can fly half-way across the world and end up in the same place if your phone and laptop keep you just as connected as before. Changing your relationship with your devices is probably more important than packing a swimsuit and electricity converter.
- Endure doing less. High-achieving, driven people often approach vacation like a major project that might earn their next big promotion. Fight through the early stages of activity withdrawal and the need to maximize (time, experiences, your Instagram feed) and be willing to do less and take more time doing it.
- Recognize that you’re replaceable. It used to be that people vacationed and those back at work took up the slack. Sometimes stuff even waited for your return. Workplaces move more quickly than that today, so designate people who can keep critical projects moving forward and make decisions in your stead. Then, come to term with things moving on without you for a time. That can feel scary, but letting others carry the ball will give you a break and let them build new skills. That’s what good leaders do.
- Give up on keeping up. Fear of returning to thousands of emails is an easy excuse for one more peak at the phone or laptop. There are a couple ways to go on this; a highly effective one is to block out the first half of your first day back to wade through those emails. There will be a lot, but many will have taken care of themselves and your out-of-office-message made clear you won’t respond, and who can. Or, you might devote 30-60 minutes (no more) to email at the beginning or end of each day during vacation. This is the coward’s way, but it’s an option if you can’t stomach going cold turkey.
“Several studies indicate that performance nose-dives when we work for extended periods without a break,” according to executive coach Rebecca Zucker writing in Harvard Business Review. “In addition, the benefits of taking a vacation are clear: It results in improved productivity, lower stress and better overall mental health.”
You need and deserve a vacation. Send us a postcard to let us know how much fun you’re having — or better yet, don’t think about us at all.