Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How Badly Do You Need Time Off?

The day before I left for vacation a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to finish my work, pack for my family, clean the house for the house sitter and figure out what that weird smell was coming from my refrigerator.

As we left for the airport, I had the same thought I always do: "It's not worth it. No vacation is worth the amount of stress I feel."

But then I spent a week on the beach, and I decided that yeah, maybe it was worth it. Really worth it.

I returned to work mentally refreshed, full of energy and -- I'll admit it -- some lingering sadness that the days of playing all day were over.

Over the last year, all I've heard from people is how exhausted they are by the extra work they're taking on. They feel like they don't even have time for their own families, let alone time to take for a vacation. Yet, in this story for Gannett, I found that people are taking time off -- they know they MUST take time off. Here's the story I did....

It was a long winter.

But spring has finally arrived, and with the warmer temperatures comes the desire to escape the working world for some time off. Still, with the increasing work load for most workers, and the lingering unease about job security, could it be that employees will forgo the warm beaches or other time-off adventures this year?

For Latasha Avery, a pharmaceutical marketing employee, she plans to not only take a vacation to Hawaii this year, but do something she has never done before – leave her Blackberry at home.

“It’s been insanely busy for the last year, and I’m basically a team of one at work,” she says. “I have to go away. I have to regroup.”

Amy Soderquist, an administrative assistant for a sales department of a fraternal insurance company, says she also plans to take a few days away in Duluth, Minn. this summer with her boyfriend – not only because her company’s policy mandates that she take at least five consecutive days off, but because she needs the break.

She also plans to “unplug” from her job, leaving the laptop at home.

“If we stayed totally connected, we would feel like we were spending money on gas and hotel for nothing – we can stay connected at home,” she says.

With many workers assuming the jobs of those who have been laid off in the last year because of the recession, finding time for themselves has been tough as they’ve worked longer hours, often staying connected via technology even when they leave their cubicle. Hard economic times caused many to cancel vacations, believing they couldn’t afford it career-wise to be away from their jobs.

As hopeful signs of an economic recovery have begun to emerge – and with exhausted workers struggling with stress – it’s more important than ever that people find time to recharge their batteries, says Paula Caligiuri, author of “Get a Life, Not a Job, “(FT Press, $18.99).

Caligiuri, a work psychologist and professor of human resource management at Rutgers University, says that workers who don’t get time off have reduced creativity and productivity. “Once you get to burnout, it’s very difficult to recover,” she says.

Air New Zealand and Alertness Solutions found in a study of in-flight passengers in a 2006 study that on the last day of their vacation, travelers had an 82 percent better performance than before their time off, and their post-vacation performance improved nearly 25 percent compared to their performance before a vacation.

For Avery, the decision to take a vacation wasn’t a difficult one, even though there was a period in 2008 when both she and her husband lost their jobs. While her husband is now employed by a small company and plans to take his laptop and check in with his office every day while on vacation, she only plans to “check e-mail once or twice.”

In fact, Avery says she chose Hawaii for a vacation because it is so far away from her office in Connecticut, and “I wanted somewhere in a different time zone so that people would think twice about just picking up the phone and calling me,” she says. “If they’re trying to figure out if it’s night or day where I am, they will probably just end up figuring how to do what they need without me.”

Avery says that the stress of working nights and weekends – and not even taking time off when she was ill -- has taken a toll on her physical and emotional health. She says that her co-workers and manager are supportive of the time off, especially since she’s making sure to have her job covered while she’s gone. She says that colleagues all know the strain of working more hours and having little time to take care of personal needs.

“I spend more time with work colleagues than I do my family or friends,” she says. “I just had this growing realization that I needed to do something. One night I said to my husband, ‘I’ve got to have a break.’ I have to get away.”

Is your workplace supportive of you taking time off this year?



Ian said...

Taking time off gets tricky when everyone is doing 2-5 people's job right now. We currently need a big lead time to arrange & approve for vacations.

I remember hearing someone who worked hard for a year for a project & took time off for his wedding & honeymoon. He gave his coworkers his new mother-in-law's number in case of emergency ... they have to convince her that it was important enough to interrupt her daughter's honeymoon ... and no one called.

Anita said...

I love that story -- we should all have a "mother-in-law" protecting our time off! Thanks for commenting.

Anita said...

Thank you for your kind words!

Kingsley Tagbo, IT Career Coach said...

Taking time off is a challenge for many who actually enjoy what they do. It's easy to become a workaholic. Even if you've seen huge gains at work or in your business, it always seems like you're on the cusp of another breakthrough that prevents you from taking that vacation. We all need the time off, so JUST DO IT!

Dan McCarthy said...

Anita -
It's ALWAYS worth it.
Prior to my last vacation, my manager told me to tell my employees that they were NOT allowed to contact me for any issues –informational emails only –and that if they had a problem, they could come to her. That got her a nice souvenir. (-:
FYI – “Amit” is a smammer – leaves the same comment and link on every blog.

Anita said...

I think the really smart bosses do what yours did...understand that it's critical that employees get a complete break of work if it's going to do any good. And, look at the appreciation and loyalty such an action inspires! Thanks for sharing that story. Hopefully, other managers will take note.

As for Amit...thanks for the heads up.
Amit...go away.

Kerja Kosong said...

off course after we work very hard for almost 1 year, we surely need time off. Thats what annual leave for. jawatan kosong