5 Lessons Learned from the Upside of Downtime Forum 2015

Last year’s inaugural Upside of Downtime Forum in New York brought together media, HR managers, and business leaders from across the country for a dynamic discussion about the value of vacation and the need to fight America’s work martyr syndrome.

At the time, I had been a Project: Time Off team member for six months and thought I knew the drill. I had memorized the research, mapped out my personal vacation time, and even tried to convince my boyfriend that his late nights in the office were detrimental to his (my) health. But that afternoon, I discovered new viewpoints from thought leaders such as Arianna Huffington, Randi Zuckerberg, Heather Greenwood Davis, and more.

As we prepare for #Upside2016 on October 5th in Washington, D.C., I thought back to five of the lessons I learned from last year’s Forum. To register for this year's event, click here.

It’s About Tech-Life Balance

Randi Zuckerberg, CEO of Zuckerberg Media and author of Dot Complicated, shared her experiences both good and bad from working in Silicon Valley. As early adopters of all things tech, she explained that although the region is praised for tackling some of society’s biggest challenges, it is also full of organizations that unfortunately celebrate work martyr behavior. Zuckerberg admitted that it’s Silicon Valley’s brilliant advancements that have blurred the line between workers’ professional and personal lives. As a result, it’s not so much an issue of work-life balance, as it is an issue of tech-life balance that we struggle with. One quote of Zuckerberg’s still rings true a year later for me: “No one else is going to set boundaries for you.” These boundaries are what lead to balance.

There is a Competitive Advantage to Sleep

The successful media mogul, Ariana Huffington, experienced the harmful effects of overwork and lack of sleep first-hand. She shared her story about how her wakeup call came when two years into building The Huffington Post, she collapsed to the floor from exhaustion and shattered her cheekbone. I began to see my performance as an employee through a new lens when Huffington explained, “We need to stop connecting being busy to being effective.”

Since the cheekbone incident, Huffington has devoted much of her energy to ending America’s epidemic of fatigue, burnout, and sleep deprivation. At the Forum, she provided numerous examples of how workers are doing themselves a disservice by not incorporating sleep, breaks, and downtime into their lives. As a solution, Huffington posed an interesting argument: employees should model the behavior of professional athletes at the office. Just like athletes, performance rates and productivity significantly decline as exhaustion increases. And exhaustion, my friends, will not put you on the path to #winning. Taking time to slow down and reboot our minds and bodies is necessary for effective performance (and apparently for making it in the big leagues).

Adults Aren’t the Only Ones Who Are Stressed. Kids Are Stressed, Too.

At an event focused on American workers’ attitudes towards time off, you wouldn’t expect to learn about kids. However, the work martyr habits of parents have an alarmingly negative impact on their children. Six in seven kids say they see their parents bring work and work stress home. This time spent stressing is replacing the much needed quality time with parents that kids rely on. The kicker is that not only are parents stressed, but kids are, too! Talk about a “monkey see, monkey do” effect. Seventy-nine percent of kids said they experience some level of stress. Yet when they take a vacation with their parents, 77 percent said they experience no stress at all. That’s a stat that sticks, and reminds us that if we don’t change, we’ll be raising the next generation of work martyrs.

Creating a Bucket List is a Waste of Time...

Unless you have true intentions to empty it. What’s the point of picturing yourself hiking the Tetons, planting a garden, or perfecting your margarita recipe? Heather Greenwood Davis, travel blogger and 2012 National Geographic Traveler of the Year, opened my eyes to the true value of time, and that dollar signs don't always equal success.

Before making the transition to freelance writer, Greenwood Davis was a lawyer in a workplace where flexible work arrangements were frowned upon and where she was struggling to find happiness. Her time was spent on late nights at the office and she noticed this was causing her family to grow further apart.

Long story short, Greenwood Davis decided to spend an entire year traveling and reconnecting with her family. Together they saw 29 countries, and checked items off their bucket list one at a time. As Greenwood Davis advised, “Be greedy about your time. Take it back from the people or things that would threaten to squander it. And spend the time you have on the people you care the most about.”

Technology Has Had A Profound Impact on Our Downtime

This proved to be a common theme for all of our speakers last year. Arianna Huffington was right on the money when she said, “Technology has made us more efficient, but has also become a major obstacle to downtime.” Echoing Randi Zuckerberg’s message, Huffington agrees the problem is tech-life balance. “If we don’t set boundaries,” Huffington said, “we will become the slaves of technology, not the masters.”

Sitting in that audience, I discovered that just because work goes everywhere with us, it doesn’t mean we owe it our attention during downtime. Because if we continually answer to work or refrain from taking a break, vacation won’t even be considered a benefit after all.

Each of these lessons helped employees and employers alike at the Forum think of ways they could benefit from time off and ultimately, improve their workplace cultures. What will you take away from the Upside of Downtime Forum 2016?

August 2, 2016