You can’t do a good job if a job is all you do.” – Artifact Uprising

“A vacation is over when you begin to yearn for your work.” – Morris Fishbein

I have a confession to make. Since I started my business 10 years ago I have only taken one vacation – ONE vacation, ONE time.  Sure, I have taken off a week or a weekend here and there to do what I called a “working vacation:” spending 3-5 hours a day working on a project and then the rest of the day pretending to relax. This usually resulted in me getting sick during and after the so-called “working vacation,” leaving me further behind than when I started.

But three weeks ago that changed.  My husband and I had planned a 17 day trip to France where we would visit his relatives, see the countryside and decompress.  I stepped into a world I had forgotten about, and I’ll admit that I had no idea much I needed to remember what a REAL vacation felt like.

Why vacation matters

At home I’ve got a good exercise routine and I practice daily meditation.  These things help keep me balanced, productive, and profitable as an entrepreneur but I had been kidding myself to believe that was enough. It wasn’t until when I actually switched off and spent a full 15 days (I’m subtracting two days for air travel, which is anything but relaxing) hiking and swimming and reading and sight seeing and enjoying long, uninterrupted meals in good company.  Bliss.  And when I came home, I felt positively bursting with happiness and energy.

The majority of comments from my Facebook photos said I “finally” looked relaxed and that it was a “long overdue” vacation they were happy I was finally able to enjoy.  I was also surprised that clients were very respectful of my vacation time and had no problem postponing things to accommodate me. In retrospect I may have thought I was keeping up a good front, but it was obvious to others that I was overstressed.

“A wise man travels to discover himself.” – James Russell Lowell

“Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.” – Hillary Rodham Clinton

Ironically, I have a workshop that helps people identify and deal with workplace stress, so I do know what happens to the body, mind and spirit when people do not have any time away from their daily routines and worries.  Stress clouds perception and makes us think we are doing better than we actually are. We make poorer decisions and take longer to get things done. In fact we operate in the much the same way people suffering from sleep deprivation do, and that looks a lot like drunkeness.

During the average workday, being overstressed translates into a minimum of 30% less thinking power and results in consistently poor judgment. There is a tendency to obsess and worry, over control, accentuate mistakes, work as if in slow motion, and not listen to others who could be preventing us from folly if we were more relaxed and could actually pay attention to what they are trying to communicate.

Why we resist taking a break

Since I have just recently experienced the power of a true vacation (I admit that I did post vacation photos to Facebook and sent five short emails to employees, so I was still guilty of some work check-in), I decided to look at what other Canadians do for their vacations and how we score in relation to other countries. Apparently my lack of vacation shows I am fitting right into a nation-wide Canadian cultural norm of vacation-resistance. Here are some of the stats:

  • In 2005, Canadians took 21 vacation days a year[1]. In 2015 they took 11[2].
  • Of all the developed countries, Canada ranks third last in taking vacation time, just above Japan and with the United States in last place.
  • Canadian law only guarantees 10 paid vacation days annually. Most other countries provide a minimum of 20 paid vacation days. In France the minimum is five weeks!
  • 48% of men stay connected with work throughout their vacations and 33% of women do the same.
  • A new Ranstad study shows that in the 18-24 year old age group, 73% of employees didn’t mind doing unpaid work for their employers and 50% of workers over aged 24 said the same.

Why do Canadians have so much trouble switching off when everyone knows how beneficial it is to take a vacation?

Here are some of the reasons cited from the four articles I read:

  • They are keenly interested in their work
  • They don’t know how to delegate properly
  • Corporate culture fosters a no-vacation attitude
  • Immediate supervisors pressure them to stay
  • They are worried that someone else taking over their work while they are gone will result in a demotion later or that the other person will not have the skills to do the work properly
  • They say they are “too busy” at work to take a vacation
  • Managers neither encourage nor discourage employees to take vacations, but since they don’t take vacations themselves, their employees follow suit and a culture of “no vacations” culture becomes the norm
  • They worry about the amount of work that will be waiting for them upon their return

How we cope

Because people cannot continue forever without reprieve, Canadians do find ways to get short breaks, but their methods may not always be in the best interests of their employers.  According to the Expedia study, Canadians tend to take more sick days and they take extra time off for long weekends. They also take more time during Christmas, averaging 10-12 days. The result? When taken together, Canadians do sprinkle in the 20 typical vacation days afforded to most employees in most other countries around the world.  So, from a health and well-being perspective, this is good news: Canadians are taking time off.  But from the employer perspective there are potential problems when your work force is habitually taking an extra 10 days of un-allotted time off – not making deadlines and being unable to plan timelines accurately being just two.

“In matters of healing the body or the mind, vacation is a true genius!” – Mehmet Murat Ildan

“To get away from one’s working environment is, in a sense, to get away from one’s self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change.” – Charles Horton Cooley

The importance of vacations boils down to this: It simply is not tenable to work straight through the year without a break.  Human beings are not machines and they break down without proper care. Even machines are not run at 100% 24/7. In the long run it will likely improve our personal and corporate productivity if everyone takes at least a two-week vacation annually as well as the occasional long weekend every quarter.

For me, ensuring I have an actual vacation is about mindset and then planning to actually do it. If I remind myself that vacation time is a necessity for having a profitable business and schedule it into my year, I am more likely to take it than if I just think I will take time off when things slow down. I will have to plan my work accordingly and save for the vacation in advance. Delegation of work and learning programs, work-flows and tasks will need to be made enough ahead of time that I will be able to relax while I’m gone. My vacation time will show my employees that they should also take a vacation. Shutting things down over long weekends and over the Christmas break makes sense since the rest of the country isn’t operating then anyway.

I’m resolving to learn from my mistakes and schedule regular vacations. Let’s start a new trend in Canada and show how productivity increases when we learn how to effectively integrate real down-time into our lives.

References:

Crawford-Hample, Emma. (May 27, 2016). Most Canadian workers unsatisfied wioth amount of vacation days: survey. https://www.biv.com/article/2016/5/most-canadian-workers-unsatisfied-amount-vacation-/

Correct on September 11, 2016.

Expedia Press Room. Vacation time shrinking in Canada: Fourth annual Expedia.ca vacation deprivation survey this year finds employees getting two less vacation days. http://press.expedia.ca/vacation-deprivation-study/vacation-time-shrinking-canada-fourth-annual-expediaca-vacation-deprivati

Correct on September 11, 2016.

Montgomery, Marc. (July 16, 2015). Vacations? Canadians need to let go, but don’t. http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2015/07/16/vacations-canadians-need-to-let-go-but-dont/

Correct on September 11, 2016.

Scott-Clark, April. (August 9, 2016). Why you should stop  employees from working on vacation. http://www.profitguide.com/manage-grow/human-resources/why-you-should-stop-employees-from-working-on-vacation-106496.

Correct on September 11, 2016.

[1] See: Expedia: Vacation time shrinking in Canada. http://press.expedia.ca/vacation-deprivation-study/vacation-time-shrinking-canada-fourth-annual-expediaca-vacation-deprivati

[2] Montgomery, Marc. (16 July, 2015). Vacations? Canadians need to let go but don’t. http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2015/07/16/vacations-canadians-need-to-let-go-but-dont/