Most executives take pride in their work ethic and commitment. They spend long hours at the office and expend great energy on making their teams and their companies better. But every strength is a weakness in another context. Leaders who resist taking time off to get away, unplug, and relax are fooling themselves and, as a result, diminishing the potential returns—in terms of their career, wellbeing, and personal life.
In this “connected” era, only rarely does an executive take a vacation and completely unplug. But a complete break from work is essential for strengthening bonds with family and friends, maximizing work productivity, and generally making life worth living.
What the data implies
Each year, over 50% of American workers leave vacation time unused. This amounts to 705 million days.
Perhaps the good news is that according to State of American Vacation 2018, even though the total number of unused hours has increased, the number of employees those hours represent has decreased. 52% of employees reported leaving vacation unused at year end, compared to 54% in 2016 and 55% in 2015. A 2% change may not seem like much, but it marks the third consecutive year of rising vacation time usage in the US.
Still, CFOs, CEOs and C-Suite executives are most frequently among those who work as necessary. They make themselves available for work 24/7—often without acknowledging the unused vacation days or considering whether they are as effective as they could be.
Why would a key executive hesitate to take time off and unplug?
I have to make too many important decisions to be absent from the office.
I would feel guilty relaxing while my team is working hard.
I might lose power or influence if I take time off.
Why leaders need to schedule time away & unplug
Shouldn’t working hard and accomplishing so much earn you the right to step away from the office every now and then? Moreover, what’s the point of accumulating vacation time if you don’t use it? Let’s take a look at the benefits of taking a break:
Preventing burnout Time off is an effective way to prevent burnout, which is caused by prolonged stress and constant demands. Burnout means feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and even uninterested in your job. A complete break from work gives you time to focus on yourself and your wellbeing.
Facilitating creativity A change of pace and scenery does wonders to spark new ideas and solutions for your business that you might never have come up with at the office. Your vacation time is a wellspring of great solutions and ideas that remain undiscovered if you never take time to really unplug, relax, and view the world and your business from a different perspective and environment.
Seeing the big picture My own mentor told me: “If you really unplug, you will start thinking about the long term, strategic issues, and what your company or team needs to do to be successful over the next 12-to-24-month period, and that is essential.”
Leading by example Executives can help to prevent employee burnout if they lead by example and heed their own PTO policy. Employee engagement with said policy at all levels will likely improve when the leaders set an example by taking time for their own wellbeing. Why not prevent burnout and promote a meaningful work-life balance for all, which will improve both productivity and morale.
Stepping back can also be key to letting your team do what they do best while you concentrate on the broader considerations key to your company’s success. Your time away from work will give your leaders room to take ownership of day-to-day operations, giving them valuable opportunities to grow, mature, and eventually help you solve some of the issues that drain you of energy and passion. Find a time when there are no important events taking place, delegate to your leaders as needed, and trust them.
Strategic thinking time (reflective thinking) is scarce these days. If you really want to succeed as an executive, a leader, and a visionary, then you owe it to yourself to be deliberate about creating “space” so you can work on the bigger picture and key strategic initiatives. Spend time with a hobby, enjoy time with family or friends, and unplug from the office. I promise you will look back three years from now and be amazed at the ideas generated, problems solved, and the revitalized energy within yourself that will also be felt by your leaders.
Enjoy your time off!