Time Off Really Pays

Vacation, all I ever wanted.

Vacation, had to get away.

So goes the song by 80’s pop band, The Go-Go’s. Growing up in South Florida, we did not really go on vacation. We had the beach just 15 minutes away. Plus, my mom always sent us outside with instructions not to return until dinner.

Now, as a grown-up, with a grown-up job, I work my *** off. It is my superpower. I dig in and get it done. Day after day. There is always more work to be done. I love the work I do, but…

I was originally dismissive of my husband’s idea of a week away. What? I can’t take a week off from work? I have so much to do. What if a client needs me?

Let’s go, said my husband.

Go, said my (teenage and adult-ish) kids.

Go, said my law partners. We will cover you.

And, you know what? They did.

I just returned from a week sitting on the beach, looking at the Caribbean Sea and doing…absolutely nothing. Wait, wait. Not nothing. I read books. I listened to music. I swam with turtles. I made it to happy hour.

What I didn’t do was check my work email. Not once. I have not unplugged to such an extent since 2007. Pathetic? Maybe.

I scrolled through my work emails on the flight home—all 372 of them!

Guess what? I did not find panicked or angry clients. Instead, because I planned this trip and divided my work up between two of my law partners, my clients had been well taken care of. All it took was some advance planning.

As a result, I started the week clear-headed, relaxed, and focused (at least until my son’s 3rd quarter report card arrived). And, I have been totally productive since returning, with minimal procrastinating and doom-scrolling.

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

In fact, I plowed through my to-do list and took care of what I needed to without much anxiety or stress.

And I’m a litigator.

We say that taking vacation can reduce stress, help prevent burnout, and promote work-life balance by allowing for more time to be spent with family and friends.

While “we say” this, we know that many people don’t use the time off they’ve earned. According to a Glassdoor survey, 54% of US employees leave half of their PTO on the table. While 66% of people said they worked while on vacation.

Employers are not legally obligated to provide paid vacation time, yet most employers provide some paid time off. However, so many employees do not take the time they need to rest and recharge.

Why?

  • The boss never takes time off. Leaders, you shape the culture and set the tone for the workforce. A supervisor who works all the time is sending a message: taking vacation is discouraged.
  • Employees fear they seem less dedicated if they take time off. This is misguided. When employees take time off, they show that they can effectively organize and distribute work to others so that no one person is overwhelmed and saddled with double work.
  • And, Science says that employee performance increases after returning from a vacation. You gonna argue with science?
  • Work won’t leave employees alone while they’re out on vacation. According to this 2021 poll, more than half of remote workers felt more stressed about taking a day off last year compared to past years. Employers, don’t do this—when a worker clears time off, distributes their work to others, and spends the money for time off to relax, let them be. Help protect their peace.

So, if vacation increases productivity, improves mental health, boosts creativity and innovation, how can employers mold the workplace culture to be more balanced?

Provide paid time off, if you do not. Encourage employees to use it.

One suggestion from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): “Empower managers to use empathy and understanding while responding to employees’ individual needs.” I like it. Makes sense.

Be aware that the pandemic has increased the risk of stress and burn-out among the workforce. Goodness knows, I have written blog after blog about the mental health toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on people, especially caregivers, and the workplace.

Don’t penalize workers who take time off. According to this Harvard Business Review study, employees who took more than ten vacation days annually were more likely to receive a raise or bonus than those who didn’t, likely from their boost in energy and productivity.

So encourage your employees to plan ahead, unplug, and take vacation. It might just stem the wave of the Great Resignation.

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.