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It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  Snow is falling outside, and the holidays are fast approaching with promises of good food, presents, joy, and family time.

I have an important question for you.  Have you scheduled your winter vacations?

I’ve been asking around the past couple of weeks, and I’ve found that while many people would love to go visit their families for the holidays or at least in the months right after, most don’t have time scheduled away from work.

What’s Going On?

This is pretty much uniquely an American problem.  Working people in other countries have no trouble using their allotted vacation time. 

The U.S. certainly isn’t nearly as generous as other countries with the amount of paid time off they give, but the people I’m talking to have paid time off; they just aren’t taking it!

In our culture, we highly value individualism and hard work, both of which have their rewards.  But sometimes, when we work like dogs to prove we can keep up with everyone else, we end up less efficient and effective.

Chunks of time away from work are often given lip service as the right thing to do.  Studies in the HR field have told us for decades that in order to be our most productive, we need time away from work at regular intervals.

But, vacations can be the source of a lot of stress.

Vacations are Stressful!

For the segment of the working population who tend towards workaholism, mandatory vacations are extremely unsettling.  They’ll secretly work through their vacation reading emails, sorting files, crafting memos, etc. in order to calm the anxiety that arises when their drug of choice is taken away.

They don’t get the essential down-time that our brains and bodies need to operate at top levels.

There are other super responsible folks that try to make the fact they’re on vacation invisible to everyone around them.

They work 60+ hours per week the week before vacation to get ready to go on vacation. Then work 60+ hours the week they come back to catch up so that no one is waiting on them for something for very long.

During my days in the corporate world, I fell into this category.  Like the workaholic, I didn’t end up receiving much of a productivity boost from going on vacation.

I did spend time with my family that I wouldn’t have otherwise, but I was never completely relaxed.  After all, looming deadlines and what was sure to be a mountain of an inbox was awaiting my return.  Ugh!

Many times in my career, coworkers and I would lament that we’d be better off not going on vacation.

How Supervisors Can Shift their Organizational Cultures

In some organizations, there’s a sense of shame for taking a vacation.  Is it kind of like survivor’s guilt; you get out and leave everyone else behind?

Probably not.  It’s likely a concern that they’ll be seen as not taking work seriously.

At other companies, not taking a vacation is a badge of honor and formally or informally reinforced by the organization.

As supervisors, your role is to protect the productivity of yourself and your team members.

Managing yourself is the key to being successful at managing and leading others.  It’s the end of the calendar year, and if you haven’t taken time off, it’s the time to do so.

By doing this, you’re modeling to your team members that you expect them to take vacations.  If you tell them to schedule the time off, but you’re not scheduling any for yourself, you’ll send a confusing mixed message.  They will follow what you do more often than what you say.

This is just one practice that you can build to create a culture, at least among your team, of healthy work-life balance.  Here are some others.

Have everyone bring in their vacation requests early in the year and look at them as a group to coordinate coverage.  Make it a fun event.  Bring in food, have those who haven’t selected vacation time throw darts at a calendar to pick their time off, throw a beach ball around…you get the picture.

I’ve even seen some departments or whole organizations close for a week once or twice a year, thereby forcing everyone to take a guilt-free vacation!

When people return from vacation, allow team meeting time for them to share what they did on their vacation.  Also, provide time for you to debrief with them and their backup after a few days to look at the coverage process, what worked well, and what needs to be tweaked for next time.

Unless you make the process of taking vacation low stress, people may be hesitant to take them.

Slow and Steady Change

Changing your culture to one where everyone sees the value of recharging won’t happen overnight.  But a belief in the value of time away and action steps like the ones above will ensure you start to make progress in that direction.

And, who knows?  If you work at a large company, maybe other teams may catch the vacation-bug as well, and before you know it, it’ll spread company-wide!

Your Ideas for Supporting a Vacation-Friendly Culture

Please share in the below your thoughts about other things you can so as a supervisor to create a vacation-friendly culture.  I’ll gather the ideas and send the list to everyone who participates in building the list!

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