Take Your Freakin’ Vacation!

I used to be one of those employees who rarely took vacation. I was always at max accrued vacation and I strutted around thinking how much more value I was providing. Instead, I was just stupid. If you’re not taking vacation, real vacations, you’re doing yourself, and your company a disservice.  Lots of research indicates that you need downtime to decompress, re-energize your brain, and increase creativity and productivity.

The Data-Driven Case for Vacation, a Harvard Business Review article states:

Statistically, taking more vacation results in greater success at work as well as lower stress and more happiness at work and home. … If you take 11 or more of your vacation days, you are more than 30% more likely to receive a raise.

It’s worth noting that this article also states that poorly planned vacations are stressful, so you lose the benefits of being away.

stacked colorful luggage
Colorful Luggage. (Photo credit: Susanne Nilsson, Flickr)

But even a well-planned long weekend isn’t enough. If you have limited vacation, don’t break it up into a series of long weekends or even two one-week increments. It’s better to take the two weeks altogether and really relax.

For most of us, going on a vacation comes with a huge tax at work. You have to cram a whole lot of extra work into the window just before you leave, and get all your work and projects to some level of equilibrium so things don’t totally explode while you’re gone. Plus, there’s all the planning and prep for the vacation itself. When you return from vacation there’s another tax to pay: a huge pile of built-up work, including emails, waiting for you. That first days back can totally suck.

Here is what my typical one-week vacation looked like.

  • Eve of vacation – work really late trying to get work responsibilities “settled enough”. Plus, do all the last-minute vacation packing and prep
  • Vacation day 1 – still wound up from work and vacation prep; tired from travel stress. Not really relaxed
  • Vacation day 2 – starting to relax, but still not in vacation mode
  • Vacation day 3 – relaxed and enjoying myself
  • Vacation day 4 – relaxed and enjoying myself
  • Vacation day 5 – relaxed and enjoying myself
  • Vacation day 6 – starting to stress about vacation almost being over
  • Last day of vacation – worked up about what’s waiting at work; travel stress
  • First day back – stuff that exploded while I was gone lands on my lap, plus I have all the catch-up work to do

See the trend here? Your work life has an inertia and it takes a few days to unwind. And even before vacation is over you start gearing up to hit the ground running when you get back. (I call this the “Sunday Evening” phenomenon.) You were gone for a week, but really only got three, maybe four good vacation days.

The last bullet point is particularly important. When you’re only gone a week, if an issue pops up, folks will leave that issue for you to resolve when you get back. That drops on your lap the day you get back. But if you go on a two week vacation, colleagues can’t wait for you to get back and will figure out how to address those issues in your absence. You may not like how an issue got addressed while you were gone, but at least you don’t have to deal with a festering issue on top of all your other catch up work.

As a manager, I would encourage staff who were accruing a lot of vacation to start using it, and in big chunks. When staff members would request a week off, I’d remind them of the benefit/pain ratio of being away longer and encourage them to take a longer break, even if that last few days were just a tacked-on staycation.

There’s one final benefit to taking a longer vacation: folks will notice your absence. If you are good at your job, it’s a great way to remind colleagues of the value you bring. Maybe that’s why folks who go on extended vacations are 30% more likely to get raises.

These are my latest ephemeral thoughts on the business of managing IT. I’d love to hear your perspective. Leave a comment or share a thought.  

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