Are You Granting Yourself and Your Team the Right to Rest?

Leigh Harper

19 November 2018

Ah, the infamous out-of-office auto-reply message. How we love to turn it on… but are we turning it on often enough?

According to Emma Seppala, who holds positions in emotional intelligence research at Stanford and Yale, the answer is a firm no. While researching for her book The Happiness Project, Emma found the following statistics, which are consistent with research from Forbes and Psychology Today on the same subject:

  • 55% of Americans did not use all their vacation days in 2015.
  • 41% still check in on work while they are on vacation.
  • 84% of U.S. executives have canceled vacations to work.

A Harvard Business Review piece explained that working less hours forces employees to use their time more efficiently.

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When it comes to daily working hours, less really is more. A Harvard Business Review piece explained that working less hours forces employees to use their time more efficiently. In countries that offer more paid vacation days than the U.S., HBR says workers focused better and worked at a faster pace.

Companies like GE, Netflix and LinkedIn have caught on to the idea that more play equals more production, offering salaried employees unlimited vacation time. Interestingly, in some cases such as with software company Salesfusion, this added fuel to the workaholic fire. Some Salesfusion employees took even less vacation days once their company adopted the policy. Kickstarter ran into the same issue and eventually replaced its unlimited vacation policy with a 25-day cap to give employees clearer expectations and to encourage them to take time away from the office.

Bad Habits
So why are we shooting ourselves in the foot, working too many days?

Many people have fallen prey to what Michael Hyatt coined the “hustle fallacy,” believing that more hours in their cubicle equals more output. 

Famous workaholic Elon Musk, who has said he works 120 hours per week, is a classic example of a hustle fallacy victim. A New York Times article quoted the Tesla CEO as calling this year “excruciating” and “the most difficult and painful” of his career. Interestingly, Tesla dropped in value significantly this summer.

In a survey conducted by Project: Time Off, 78 percent of employees said they feel more comfortable taking a vacation if they know they will be in a location where they can access work. 


Beyond Profits
The value of vacation extends past dollars and cents, however. Taking time away is just as important for the health of individuals and their personal lives as it is for the health of the company.

Michael Hyatt is a self-professed recovering workaholic who says his life changed when he discovered that work and self-care are symbiotic, a concept he calls the double-win truth. He says that work provides confidence, joy and financial provision, and practicing good self-care offers a clear mind, creativity and rested body that’s ready to work. To achieve the double-win truth, Michael suggests making a commitment for self-care. “Set hard boundaries around your workday and weekend, and set a goal to sleep eight hours a night,” he says. Michael advocates for working smarter, not harder. Prioritizing self-care equal sustainability and more contentment, he says. 

Speaker and author Laura Vanderkam frequently reminds her audiences that “every yes is a no [to something else], and every no is a yes.” It’s imperative for us as leaders to remember that each member of the workforce wears hats outside of the office – roles like parent, spouse, friend or coach, for example. 

Similarly, in The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands, author Lysa TerKeurst says,“Whenever you say yes to something, there is less of you for something else. Make sure your yes is worth the less.” 

While any responsible employee would agree that working hard is important, it’s also very important to consider the effects too much work can have on lives outside of the workplace.

Leading the Way
As leaders, it is critical to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Deciding when to take time away from the office or even when to turn off your computer each day is a decision that lies in your own hands. This can be viewed as a positive or negative, because as Andy Stanley says, “We face our greatest leadership challenge every morning in the mirror.” TWEET

We are responsible for our own choices—the smart ones and the unfortunate ones. A few ways leaders can encourage their followers to take time away from the office:

- Model good habits by scheduling regular time off (and following through with it!).

- Do not say or do anything that might give your team the idea that you resent their time off. Talk openly and positively about vacation time. Initiate conversations about holiday schedules so they don’t have to ask. 

- Maintain healthy boundaries when you are out of the office and also when your employees are gone. Don’t email your team to check in while you’re away, and don’t email them when they’re away. Keep a running list of things to work through together, but don’t share it until both parties are back on the clock.

- Be willing to sacrifice in order to protect one of your direct report’s time off. If something unexpected comes up while a member of your team is gone, choose to absorb the work yourself rather than interrupting their vacation.

The bottom line is, give yourself (and your team!) permission to really unplug over the holidays. Engage with the people in your life who are not in your office—you (and your profits) will reap the benefits.

Leigh Harper

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