3 Tips for Taking Your Hard-Earned Time Off

As I attend and speak at leadership conferences all over the country, an ongoing topic of interest is the subject of work-life balance, or “work-life integration,” or “work-life harmony.” Whatever we choose to call it, it’s apparently in short supply in the current U.S. corporate climate.

The pace of life seems to only accelerate, work gets harder and more demanding, and it’s not going to slow down anytime soon. Everyone needs to recalibrate how they approach work-life issues, and the smartest companies will think about their responses in advance and be prepared with effective solutions.

There are many articles with tips about how to achieve work-life balance, but my suggestion is to simply take time off to decompress. It is necessary and critical to happiness and productivity. Fortunately, most U.S. workers do have paid time off, but unfortunately, we don’t always use it.

According to a 2017 study by the U.S. Travel Association, a little more than half of full-time workers didn’t take all the paid vacation days they earned, leaving more than 700 million vacation days on the table. That means people are essentially working for free almost one week every year. In 2014, a study by Oxford Economics found that U.S. workers were using only 77 percent of their paid time off, which equated to about 169 million days forfeited, amounting to $52.4 billion in lost benefits, a 40-year high at that time.

In my work advancing women and engaging men, I encourage workers to use their full benefits, like parental leave and flexible work schedules, as well as insist on pay equity. Obviously, I would never advocate working for free or leaving benefits like paid time off on the table, which can take a toll on personal health and productivity.

The truth is you need time off, your body needs time off, your mind needs time off, and your friends, family and company want you to take this time off. What are some ways to ensure that you recharge in the time off that’s been allotted to you?

1. Plan for it. In the Working Mother article, 7 Ways to Make Sure You Use All of Your Vacation Days, working moms shared tips that included changing the way they view vacations (hint: they don’t have to be a week at a time, flying to an exotic destination) and slating them on the calendar at the beginning of the year. The U.S. Travel Association found that planners are more likely than nonplanners to use all or most of their time off to travel (18-33 percent). It’s true: If you plan for it, it’s more likely to happen.

2. Set the example for your team. Similarly to how I encourage companies to create an environment where men feel comfortable taking their parental leave because this promotes gender equity, it is important for senior leaders to take their vacation time to set an example for others. As the boss, you can’t expect your employees to feel good about taking time off if they never see you doing it. Frankly, this extends to other areas of work-life balance such as announcing to your team when you’re leaving the office to see your kid’s soccer game or shutting off your email notifications at night.

3. Take a vacation from technology. Along those lines, consider taking breaks from the devices and technology that keep us connected to work 24-7. Remember when the French government instituted a policy that allowed employees to disconnect from work email while they’re not in the office? Jealous? Me too. It may not be instituted into law here, but we do have more power over our devices than we think. If you can carve out a daily tech-free time for yourself, it will have the decompressing effects of a minivacation, and you don’t even have to leave your house. We’re often unaware of the distraction and low-level of stress that constant connectivity causes until we take a break from it.

...Which is kind of the point. Taking time off from the “usual” to attend to the “unusual” keeps us from burning out, which increases our productivity and engagement with our work. And that’s a win-win for everyone.

Don’t wait until the December holidays to take a break. As we dive into summer, the typical vacation season, now is the time to recharge, set an example, disconnect from technology, and reconnect with loved ones and ourselves.

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Jeffery Tobias Halter is president of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership advancement. Founder of the Father of Daughter Initiative, creator of the Gender Conversation QuickStarters Newsletter and the Male Advocacy Profile, Jeffery is former director of diversity strategy for The Coca-Cola Company, and is the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women.

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