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Leading by Example: Why Executives Need More Vacation

Fact: those who are resistant to taking their vacation time, regardless of the reason(s), are very likely fooling themselves in some key way. Particularly in the era of instant-clickable-nonstop-round-the-clock, it does seem that employees in general and leadership in particular (i.e., CEOs and HR decision makers) don’t do vacation time like they used to: unplugged.

Thing is, vacation is essential for strong family/friend bonds, productive work, and a life that feels worth living. It just is.

The numbers

Each year, over 50% of Americans leave vacation time unused, amounting to 705 million days in 2017 alone, up from 662 million days the year before.

Perhaps the good news is that according to State of American Vacation 2018, even though the number of unused hours has increased, the number of employees those hours represent has decreased: 52% of employees reported having unused vacation days at year’s end, compared to 54% in 2016 and 55% in 2015. Though a 2% change may seem like much, it marks the third consecutive year of rising vacation time usage in the US.

Still, CFOs, CEOs and C-Suite executives are most often among those who work as necessary, making themselves available 24/7—often without ever acknowledging those accumulating vacation days.

Why would someone in a position of power hesitate to take a time-out?

Now while it’s true that CEOs can’t do much good when they’re feeling burned out, many simply feel like there’s too much at stake to go away, and/or that too many people rely on them daily for a vacation to ever be a viable option. For many executives, it’s not a question of getting more time off, but rather, finding a way to get away without feeling guilty and irresponsible.

Of course, then there are those who fear going vacation but for all the wrong reasons, such as fear of losing power and influence. Sadly, sometimes these fears are justified. But shouldn’t working hard and accomplishing so much earn you the right to get a fresh perspective and breathe a deep breath every now and then?

The issue of how much of a break senior executives deserve has been a topic of discussion. Back in 2006, Wal-Mart Stores’ then CEO Lee Scott announced his intention to take a month-long vacation (for the first time) and delegate responsibilities to a number of deputies while away. Yet even though Scott himself also remained in touch with the company while away, his getaway triggered complaints that he was putting his own interests ahead of the corporation’s shareholders. Others speculated that a month-long vacation was a sign he was on his way out—one way or another.

We should want leaders and decision makers who regularly face high-pressure situations to be able to decompress without having their credibility questioned, shouldn’t we? There should be more to working hard than working even harder.

The real question is: what’s the point of being entitled to more vacation time than any lower level executive if you don’t have the ability to use it?

Why executives definitely do need to take more vacation time
Preventing burnout

Time off is an effective way to prevent feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and even uninterested in your job. Additionally, it’s important for those in executive positions to remember that part of their job is leading by example: when they heed their own PTO policy, employee engagement with said policy also at all other levels also improves. Why not prevent burnout and facilitate multilevel productivity? Why not promote a meaningful work-life balance for all, yourself included?

Facilitating creativity

A change of pace and a change of scenery can do wonders to help spark new ideas and solutions for your business that you might never have come up with while in the office. It can be hard to imagine such usefulness if you never take advantage of your PTO. The only way to know is to try.

Seeing the big picture

Jim Moffatt, CEO of Deloitte Consulting, wrote about how he once presented time off to his employees, only to get his own helping of advice from a business partner: “If you really unplug, you will start thinking about the long term, strategic issues, and what we have to do to be successful over the 9-to-24-month period, and that is essential.” Indeed, stepping back can also be key to letting your senior leaders do what they do best while concentrating on broader considerations key to your company’s success.

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Timing is crucial

There’s nothing that dampens a good vacation like a frantic call from the office. The reality is, yes, it is often harder for CEOs to take off on a vacation—such as during a busy season, before an investor’s meeting, around the time of a year-end book closing, or while there is tension or conflict afoot.

Do the work: find a time when there are no important events taking place, delegate as needed, and trust.

Find the right way to take off…for you personally

CEOs who do manage to take vacation tend to employ a range of tactics, from unplugging completely to working in varying degrees from afar.

  • Mike McDerment, CEO and Co-Founder of FreshBooks likes to unplug completely but provide key colleagues with an emergency number.
  • Marissa Mayer, busy Yahoo CEO takes a week-long vacation every 4 months to avoid getting overwhelmed by her 70 meetings a week and 11-hour days.
  • Adam Froman, CEO of Delvinia, always has his smartphone on him, 24/7, even on the beach, in order to weigh in as needed on important financial decisions. But at least he gets away.

Bottom line: Life is the answer to all the questions. Soul II Soul said that. If you’ve never been blessed with hearing their funky melodies, you’re missing out. And if you’ve got a pile of unopened vacation time under your proverbial tree, it’s time to find a way of opening some up and enjoying the hard-won benefits of your labor.

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Rejean Martin

Rejean is the Marketing Manager at PurelyHR but some people also know him as the guy who lived in a bus in the prairies. As a world traveller and nature lover, Rejean can strongly attest to the power of time off in the workplace.

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