As adults we anticipate a vacation the way children look forward to birthday parties. For weeks, even months, in advance, we know it’s approaching. Until suddenly the eagerly awaited break from work is only days away! Soon we’ll be packing, checking luggage, boarding a plane and putting our trays in an upright position as we make that final descent.
What’s the first thing we do when we arrive at our sun-kissed destination? Maybe we don’t even wait to get to the hotel. We do it in the taxi, at our first opportunity. After all, why wait?
Like so many other vacationers, we check our work email—just in case something urgent came up in the 24 hours since we left the office!
America is still the only developed economy which doesn’t have a mandatory paid vacation policy as part of its labor laws. An attempt in 2013 to introduce mandatory paid vacation by adding an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act was sent by Congress to a subcommittee for further study. But legislation is only part of the problem. Even when people do get vacation, many of them don’t switch off. One survey of 1000 workers found that 59% of people work when they should be taking a break. This includes during time off for illness, weekends, national holidays and vacations. “Have wi-fi, will work,” seems to be the motto of most employees.
Another shocking PGi study found that 82% of people read and reply to work emails once or twice a day while on vacation. With smartphones and wi-fi we don’t even need business lounges anymore when travelling. In many cases, the beach itself has become an extension of the office.
Staying plugged in while on personal time is only one of many things that can suck the life out of a perfectly good holiday. Here’s our list of five things that will kill your vacation.
1. Pre-Vacation Panic
No one likes to leave work with a pile of incomplete tasks screaming for attention. Most people prefer to head out knowing that everything is in order. Some even “work ahead,” doing extra work before leaving to avoid post-vacation panic! Unfortunately, this increases tension and stress in the weeks leading up to the vacation, causing an even greater feeling of burnout. If vacation time is near, your body and mind are likely in need of a break. Pushing too hard before you leave can set you up for a complete crash once you stop running on adrenaline. How many times have you scrambled to get everything in order so you can enjoy your time off, only to get sick on your first day? Instead, pace yourself before a holiday. Prioritize critical projects and put them in order and make sure important tasks will be covered while you’re gone—then head for the beach. Don’t try to complete in advance the workload you’re taking a break from!
2. Failure to Delegate
Cross training in sports adds flexibility and improves overall performance. In the workplace, it also enables reciprocity when it comes to covering off absences and vacation. Instead of cramming three weeks of work into one before you go (or letting everything slide until you return), cultivate a healthy quid pro quo relationship with co-workers. They cover for you and you return the favor when they take vacation. You might also use your well-deserved time off as a stretch opportunity for someone you supervise by delegating what needs to be done while you’re away. Keeping control by refusing to delegate or off-load work while you’re away is a guaranteed vacation killer and a recipe for future stress leave.
3. Staying Plugged In
As mentioned in the introduction, people are staying perpetually plugged in to their jobs, even when they desperately need to check out for a while. This is both a bona fide vacation killer and completely misguided. Strangely enough, productivity actually goes up when employees digitally detox when out of the office—in some cases, as much as 60 percent. Some companies, like Vynamic (a health-care management consultancy), recognize how important it is for employees to disconnect so they banned work-related email between 10:00pm and 6:00am.
4. Keeping Your Head in the Game
Continuing to mull over work related problems and projects while going through vacation motions will not bring you back to the office refreshed and recharged. Perhaps you crave work like a smoker craves nicotine? Get over it. Go cold turkey. Plunge into your vacation at the deep end. To make a clean break, start your holiday with a planned activity that takes you far from Wi-Fi and requires your complete concentration. After a few days of vacation immersion, email cravings should subside and the health of your holiday will be assured.
5. Post-Vacation Panic
Vacations increase productivity, improve reaction times, and enhance employee satisfaction. If that’s not enough, a true break from work lowers stress levels, which has been shown to reduce the chance of damaging health conditions like heart attacks. All of these benefits can be undone if the first week back is a stressful whirlwind. When you return to the office, allow yourself a window of time to get back up to speed. Block off time in your schedule to reply to emails, get updates from direct reports and create a plan of action for work to be accomplished in the next few weeks. Once again, pace yourself instead of trying to get everything done right away.
The key to enjoying life-sustaining vacations is found in the balance of planning, pacing and letting go. The payoff is coming back refreshed, de-stressed and more productive than ever. Make the most of your downtime and help your employees do the same by targeting and eliminating common vacation killers.
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