Fostering Leadership Through Time Off

The vacation is an endangered beast in America. Left and right, Americans forgo their vacations and put in more time at the office, but this devotion comes at a cost beyond even exhaustion— it lessens potential for advancement and learning.

The pressure to forfeit time off is largely self-created. Many Americans leave vacation days unused, fearing the inevitable catch-up work on their return and worrying that they will present a lack of dedication to their job and hurt their chances at promotions and raises; ironically, Project: Time Off found that “[e]mployees who take 10 or less days of vacation time are less likely to have received a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who took 11 days or more.”

This poor work-life balance isn’t helping anyone, with anxious, overworked employees making fumbles and shorting the economy $223 million in potential spending. Even so, workers fear lashback, and a lack of clear communication on the part of employers reinforces workers’ fears that their bosses do no approve of them using their full allotment of vacation time. This is especially unfortunate given that taking time off— real time off, no work emails— does revitalize and inspire.

Another recent study suggests vacations not only boost productivity, but also forge leaders. Surveying the leaders of nonprofits, they compared stress levels, creativity, and cooperation in those who took work sabbaticals and thpse who did not.  Those who went on sabbaticals were able to ‘think outside the box,’ [generate] new ideas for effecting change and [raise] funds for their organization. In addition, the majority found that they were better able to crystallize the existing vision for the organization and to create a new, more powerful one.” Additionally, the employees who filled in for their absent bosses and leaders displayed greater responsibility and job effectiveness upon their superiors’ returns, essentially having been trained in successorship independently.

Although these circumstances are extreme (we can’t expect everyone to take months off ) the results can be applied on a smaller scale. Sabbatees have the advantage in terms of learning new skills, but a week-long break from routine can still do plenty for levels of energy and mental pressures, and “[t]he majority of HR managers agree (77%) that employees who take most or all of their vacation time are more productive in their jobs than those who do not. Further, HR managers believe that taking using vacation time leads to higher performance (75%) and increased job satisfaction (78%).” It’s up to both employees and employers to take advantage of these findings.

Based on these discoveries, many Wall Street companies are creating new policies urging employees to take all their vacation time, and forbidding employees from coming into work on Saturdays.  Editor At Large of Fortune, Geoff Colvin’s, advice for workers in 2016 is to take all your vacation this year, and don’t check work email more than once a day on vacation. He suggests signing up for the mindfulness course at work, or meditate on your own saying “I know you don’t have time, but remember that people who meditate have a saying that if you don’t have time for a half-hour of meditation a day, you need an hour.”


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