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What happens when we unplug and recharge?

The benefits of vacations are highly underrated

By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

This August I escaped for an entire week. I turned off my computer and left it on the desk, flew to the Caribbean with my family, and locked my cell phone in the hotel’s safe.  For days, I didn’t think about anything but scheduling my next dive and what kind of fish I wanted for dinner. What I can tell you about the experience is that “being underwater” has taken on an entirely new meaning for me, and that unplugging is probably the best gift you can give yourself, your family and your business.

The facts back me up. In a recent NY Times article, Tony Schwartz cites a growing body of evidence that overall vacation time, described as “intense effort offset regularly by real renewal,” fuels greater productivity and more sustainable performance. CareerBuilder’s Rosemary Haefner says their research shows that workers who take vacations and other time away tend to have less burnout, show more creativity, and produce higher quality output.

At the same time, CareerBuilder’s 2011 study of more than 5,600 workers found that three in ten workers planning vacations take the office along with them, and 12 percent of participants said they feel guilty when they’re away from work. The Internet service company j2 Global found in surveying small businesses that two-thirds of the owners who plan to take vacation also plan to take their work with them.

Whether you realize it or not, and whether you are a worker or an owner, you are not indispensable. Your business, no matter what it is, should be stable enough for you to take a few days off. Rather than questioning how critical your presence is, you should be asking how much time you need to take off in order to properly rejuvenate. Not surprisingly, opinions on this topic vary widely.

Reevaluate stingy vacations

How much vacation time is appropriate in the workplace? The U.S. is the lone advanced economy in the world that doesn’t mandate paid vacations. According to an article in the August 2013 Forbes, 25 percent of Americans don’t get any paid vacation at all, with much higher rates among lower-paid and part-time workers and small businesses. Most companies offer just one or two paltry weeks of vacation for the first year or more. What’s wrong with us?

A growing number of companies and business owners are wising up and offering three to four weeks of vacation in the first year of employment. Additionally, there are a growing number of companies that throw out the concept of vacations altogether and offer unlimited time away, as long as people get the work done. Yes, these companies are surviving and even thriving—and, more important, so are the people in them. (Count TalenTrust among these companies. We made the decision to offer unlimited vacations on the honor system and have never looked back.)

Although not every business can afford several weeks off for each individual, business owners who are stingy with vacation time for their employees, and themselves, should reevaluate their positions to see where they can improve their time-off policies.

The path to a stress-free vacation

Jenna Goudreau, in Entrepreneur magazine online, offers business owners five steps to plan a stress-free vacation. The same steps apply to employees:

  • Plan your vacation around slow periods in your business.
  • Put clear systems in place for employees (or coworkers) to follow.
  • Build confidence by handing off responsibilities before you leave.
  • Complete any big, lingering projects before you take off.
  • Let clients know what to expect while you’re away.

I would add one more crucial step: Insist that everyone on vacation unplug—no exceptions.

The benefits of time away are clear

The main personal benefit of time away is renewal—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Our best ideas and happiest moments don’t often happen in the “bigger, faster” environment we find ourselves in daily. They arise when we’re quiet and relaxed enough to actually listen to what’s going on in our minds and hearts, as well as those of our loved ones, and reflect on it.

The benefits of renewal are passed straight through to your business. Increases in productivity and creativity lift overall performance—and there’s no better way to identify possible points of failure in your operations than when people prepare to go away.

It’s time that every one of us in this country learn to appreciate the value of vacations, offer them as generously as possible to employees and take them ourselves. If you can’t afford to go away, stay home and relax. As for me, I’m already thinking about next August … I may try for two weeks unplugged and away next year … the fish are calling.

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