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“The greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain.” Shawn Achor

Knowledge workers rely on creativity. Innovation. Critical thinking. Sound decision-making. Emotional intelligence. While these resources are not finite, they are exhaustible. Your organization’s greatest competitive advantage is the minds of your people, and those minds deliver progressively diminishing returns when they’re fatigued, stressed, and disengaged. The solution? Couldn’t be simpler – or more effective. Vacation.

The Curative Effect of R&R

When you’re sitting at your desk or trapped in another meeting, where does your mind wander? To a tropical beach? A snowy mountaintop? An intriguing new city? Your body should follow suit. As author Joe Robinson writes, “Time off is medicine.” He’s not being entirely metaphorical either; studies have proven that an annual vacation can reduce the risk of heart attack by 30 percent in men and 50 percent in women.

Additional benefits associated with kicking back on the beach: reduced blood pressure, trimmer waistlines, lower levels of depression and stress - and improved productivity and efficacy at work.

Productivity Booster

Afraid to take vacation? It’s a common fear. Many of us worry about the workload when we return, but we also worry that taking time off will impact our ability to succeed within the organization. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

According to Project: Time Off, people who use all of their vacation are 6.5 percent more likely to land a promotion or receive a raise than those who stay in the office. Shawn Achor says that while that percentage seems small, “it is the polar opposite of the idea that staying at work might mean getting ahead. It simply doesn’t.”

Study after study proves that vacations boost productivity, facilitate greater workplace morale, and increase employee retention. And, according to Katie Denis, senior director of Project: Time Off, holidays help you engage in “fresh-thinking.” “Vacations,” she says, “allow you to be more creative.” For knowledge workers, refreshing the mind is critical.

So why aren’t we packing our bags?

PTO? No, Thanks

Innovative companies like LinkedIn, Virgin, Netflix, and HubSpot offer unlimited paid vacation. Why? Because they know happy, rested employees are productive, effective employees. But they also know that it will save them big bucks - because Americans don’t take vacation.

The average US worker with PTO leaves an average of three vacation days unused. Forty-one percent of employees say they do not plan on using all of their days, and they leave an average of 8 days on the table. Another 13 percent do not plan on taking any vacation time.

Companies bear the liability for rollover days or those that are cashed-out. At nearly $1900 per employee, it quickly adds up. Factor in the cost of lost productivity, stagnant thinking, and other side effects of no leisure, and you have a big problem on your hands.

For the health of your employees and your company, you need to implement a culture that encourages vacation. How?

  • Encourage your people to take vacation. A GfK Public Affairs study found that many of us suffer from a “work martyr complex.” We feel chained to our desks. “This complex is reinforced by company culture and lack of encouragement from management to take time off.”

    Explicitly discuss the benefits of vacation with your people, and encourage them to use their vacation days. All of them. Without guilt.

  • Help employees prepare to take time off. Many people hate to take vacation because of the overload they’ll come back to. Help them enjoy time off by assigning their work to colleagues (don’t just dump it on one person). Give these folks clear guidelines, checklists, and articulate the expectations to help them assume the additional – and temporary – responsibilities.

  • Remember that PTO is compensation. If you offer paid time off but do not encourage people to take it, you are essentially reducing their compensation. Make sure employees know that they are entitled to this time.

  • Lead by example. Get away. It’s hard when you’re the boss, but it’s even more essential to your productivity. Make concrete plans, delegate to your right-hand or a few trusted employees, automate your email, tie up loose ends before you go, and then go. Do not make yourself available 24/7. If you must check in, do so at scheduled times. You are setting an example for how your employees should treat their time off.

Vacation isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Knowledge, creativity, problem-solving, decision-making – all of these are renewable resources. Take the opportunity to replenish them, and encourage your people to do the same. You’ll see a world of difference.


Larry Hart

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