The value of vacations

13th January 2019

HeidiTaylor MarketingPhoto by Heidi Taylor

I’m just back from a 2-week holiday over the Christmas and New Year’s festive period. And, as I’ve done for many years, I completely disconnected from email and social media during my holiday. Even though I now work for myself and my time off is no longer paid, I still give myself this type of annual leave, because I am convinced of the value of vacations (using the American word here for its alliteration).

I have to admit that every year I find it more and more difficult to make this commitment to switching off and staying offline for the duration of my holiday. This year I wasn’t quite sure if I could do it. Those first few days definitely weren’t easy. Especially as I was surrounded by people continually glancing at their phone screens.

I actually felt physical withdrawal symptoms.

Which started me thinking about modern-day addictions. Because although technology has fundamentally changed how we communicate with others, and in so many ways has freed us to do and be more, there is a cost.

So much of what I read and see these days seems to indicate that we in B2B marketing are more stressed, tired and overwhelmed than ever. All the choices we have for both work and life are enabling us to be both more efficient and effective, supposedly enhancing both. Yet the ubiquity of our devices is wearing us out. We’re connected 24/7 to our jobs and we don’t seem to be able to switch off from either work or the day-to-day busy-ness of our lives.

Even when we’re on holiday. How many of us actually completely switch off from email and social media during our holidays?

Many people I know find their annual leave more stressful than not taking any leave at all. They can’t let go of what they’ve left undone at the office or what they will need to do when they get back. And I know many more people who don’t even take all of their annual leave.

 

No one is too busy to take a break.

Even B2B marketers (tongue firmly in cheek).

But the issue goes far beyond us. A Guardian article last year explored the results of a survey that found fully one-third of working Brits did not use up their annual leave, losing an average of four days each. These 4 days of untaken paid leave is like paying your company out of your own pocket for 4 extra days of work.  The study further showed that 69% of Brits don’t take a two-week holiday.

It’s even worse in the US, where the number of days people take as holiday time has been steadily declining since the 1990s. The State of American Vacation 2018 – research from Project: Time Off – found that 52% of working Americans left unclaimed vacation days, an accumulated 705 million unused days last year, up from 662 million the year before.

I was dumbfounded when I read that. Because these same studies as well as others have shown mounting evidence that people who take their holiday time – especially for travel – and manage to ‘switch off’ from work are significantly happier and more successful in both their personal and professional lives.

So why are we consistently failing to take our full allotted paid leave every year? And why aren’t more of us switching off when we do?

 

5 common pitfalls that can be avoided:

  1. I’m too busy. Busy has become the currency of our self-worth. There’s a culture of ‘busy-ness’ that’s running rampant throughout so many of our organisations and through much of our lives. It’s a point of pride with us. When someone asks how we are, we invariably answer ‘busy’. I’ve done the same. As if that’s a good thing, as if we’re not busy there must be something deficient in our lives, we’re lazy or lacking in ambition or simply can’t find enough to do. Though I wonder if this mantra of ‘busy’ is actually a conscious or subconscious display of own importance, as if everything will fall apart without us.

What to do: Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. Do fewer things and do them better. Carve out time to think, reflect, evaluate, learn, and experience new things that will bring value to the quality of the work we do instead of focusing on the quantity.

  1. Fear Of Missing Out – that important meeting, that face time in the office, that critical communication. Which is mostly a fear that we’re replaceable, that our jobs might be at risk, that someone will discover we’re not necessary. Especially in these uncertain times. For those of us who work for ourselves there’s an added fear of not being available for any paying work that might come in while we’re away.

What to do: Letting go of FOMO means fundamentally changing our mindset about ourselves and our work, and letting go of our latent insecurities. We owe it to ourselves as human beings to ensure we have a fulfilling life outside of work as well as in work. The reality is that in B2B marketing no one is indispensable and we have to learn to live with that. And realise that while we’re away nothing really new or urgent is going to happen, no one suffers because we’re not around to engage in a conversation or do a few tasks, and no one ever freaks out simply because we’re not there. Or if they do, that’s not our issue.

  1. My Inbox will be a nightmare. I once came back from a 3-week holiday to an Inbox of over 3,000 emails. I’m certain others have experienced the same or worse. This past week I read a LinkedIn post where someone actually moaned about their over-flowing Inbox and all the ‘work’ they came back to. I just don’t understand this. Firstly, we all know that the vast bulk of these emails are junk or unimportant and we don’t need to read much less respond to them. And secondly, our work simply doesn’t increase exponentially during the time we’ve taken off. How does it make sense that there is so much ‘new’ work that we didn’t know about or plan for before we took our time away? Are we really so deficient at managing our own workloads?

What to do: We have Out Of Office auto-generated email message capability. Be very clear and let people know we will not be responding to emails until we return to work. And don’t give a specific date for that return, give a ‘week commencing’ date. Then give ourselves the permission to spend the first day or two (or even 3) back in the office getting through emails. Nominate someone on our team for people to contact if we’re expecting something urgent or important.

  1. My company culture doesn’t encourage taking leave, even though they say they do. This is a tough one. In my entire working life I’ve never had a boss who made it a priority to ensure we took our entire holiday entitlement. And we’ve all had bosses who email us outside of working hours or when they know we’re on holiday, expecting a response. For me, this is about basic respect; the majority of us do have lives outside of the office and our companies should honour that. Yet many corporate holiday policies simply don’t reflect that respect. Some companies allow untaken holiday to ‘roll-over’ into the next year, some have a cap on the number of days allowed to roll-over, and others have a use-it-or-lose-it policy. There are even a number of companies – primarily in the tech sector – who offer an unlimited holiday allowance. Unlimited holidays may sound like heaven, but the reality is that employees in these workplaces tend to take less holiday rather than more. These policies all reinforce a reluctance to actually encourage the paid leave we are entitled to. And studies have shown that our work suffers as a result.

What to do:  Even if our companies offer but don’t mandate leave, make it compulsory for the people we lead.  And proactively manage that leave continuously throughout the year. Set the expectation and be explicit that when they’re off, they’re completely off. If we’re individual contributors, set that expectation for ourselves and remain proactive about planning holiday time. I would go even further and set ‘off’ parameters around evenings and weekends.

  1. Work martyrdom. Having ‘so much to do’ is a form of work martyrdom. The Oxford English Dictionary defines martyrdom as ‘a display of pretended or exaggerated suffering to obtain sympathy’. Project: Time Off defines ‘work martyrdom’ as believing working long hours is a sign of productivity and dedication to the job, and that sacrificing paid time off will further a career. Work martyrs often feel consumed by their work, but are loath to let go of what they perceive they must do in order to get noticed or promoted.

What to do: We need to ask ourselves what we’re actually achieving with all our long hours on the job. Do we have clear goals and objectives that are agreed with our leadership? Do we understand what is most valued by our boss and the organisation? If it’s the hours we put into your job and not the quality of work we do that’s important to our companies, then we might want to consider working elsewhere.

 

Neglecting our well-earned time off is short-sighted

Even though it’s a cliché, there’s a reason the dying never say they wish they’d spent more time in the office. And why the world of work is often called a ‘rat race’. Where are we finding fulfilment as human beings? What nourishes our souls? Our work does provide many of us with at least some of that nourishment and fulfilment. And some of us are lucky enough to have work that we are passionate about and which gives our lives greater meaning.

But the majority of us work to live, not live to work. And I worry that we are neglecting too much of what’s really important to our lives by getting so caught up in the never-ending hectic pace of today’s world. We are so busy ‘do-ing’ that we seem to have lost the ability to just ‘be’ – with each other and with ourselves.

That’s why our holiday time is so precious and why switching off is critical to our well-being. Holidays give us the opportunity to step out of our day-to-day routines and seek out experiences that give us new perspectives and connect us more deeply to ourselves, those we love, and the wider world. And if we’re really lucky, we might just experience moments of such pure freedom and happiness that it stays with us long after our holiday is over.

 

Happy New Year B2B Marketers!

I hope you all had wonderful holidays over the Christmas and New Year’s period!

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Have you made any New Year’s resolutions yet? Why not read my book:

B2B Marketing Strategy: differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement  is available from Kogan Page publishers and Amazon everywhere.

Happy New Year 2019


Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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