Vacation Quality Matters More Than Quantity If You Have the Right Culture

Last year, Elizabeth Schwartz was ready to get out — literally.

In a profile by Fast Company, Schwartz — chief operating officer of Square Root, a 55-person software startup — explained how a careful consideration of her work-life balance (and that of those around her) had led her to take a five-month hiatus from the company and hike the famed Pacific Crest Trail.

‘For anyone in the middle of a career, the timing is never right,” she muses, “but it may be now or never.”

When Schwartz returned to work, she said the time away reinforced the importance of a positive vacation culture. Many American workers could use the same sort of experience. But not many employees are in a position to take five months. Some even feel they can’t manage five days. In fact, according to Project: Time Off research, Americans are working themselves to the point of extreme frustration and exhaustion in part because they fear appearing less dedicated or, even worse, replaceable.

This sort of extreme imbalance can often lead these workers to a difficult question: is the only way to find balance to quit? Unfortunately, not only does it set a poor example for others, it can be little more than papering over a crack instead of addressing the source of the issue.

The good news is that there are proven methods to help foster the work-life balance that we all need.

First and foremost: plan and use your vacation days.

It might seem obvious, but by leaving time off on the table, you ignore one of the most powerful balancing weapons in your arsenal. Our research shows that employees who plan to take all their time off are not only much happier in their work and home lives, but they’re also more likely to receive a promotion or a raise.

Open a dialogue with the people you work with.

Year-over-year, a majority of the people we survey feel that their company culture is ambivalent, discouraging, or sends mixed messages about time off—but leaving that culture isn’t going to help turn that around (not to mention you may not fare any better elesewhere). Overwhelming majorities of managers tell us that they believe that taking time off improves their employees well-being, alleviates burnout, and boosts team morale. If you haven’t taken the opportunity to have a conversation with your boss about taking some time off to recharge, might we suggest reminding them that vacation improves focus and renews commitment — what manager could argue with that?

Ditch the work martyrdom.

Work martyrdom is a real thing. Our research shows that thirty-eight percent of employees want to be seen as a work martyr by their boss. What isn’t so obvious, though, is how this group does not understand how this isn’t helping them advance in their careers, especially younger workers who might still be finding their way along a complex professional journey.

“I think many are starting to hit the age where you start to care less about the things that mattered in your 20s. The “prestige” of a company. The pay. The bragging rights that come with the insane hours you worked. The sense of fulfillment starts to shift from external motivators to internal ones,” explains Stephanie Denning, an expert in business leadership who focuses on Millennials.

So, sure, you might not be able to take a five-month hike like Schwartz did. But you can reap the benefits of downtime. Leverage your paid time off by reprioritizing your personal metrics of success to focus less on hours worked and more on the things you’ve accomplished. “I was always go, go, go and task-oriented,” Schwartz said. “I can still be task-oriented, but I recognize the value of recharging.”


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