Reading Between The Lines: Vacation Tips That Are Anything But

I read a lot about vacation time—blog posts, expert opinions, research papers—you name it, I’ve probably read it. Over time, I’ve stumbled across a few articles that aimed to give workers tips on how to take their time off, but at the end of the day, these well-intentioned pieces simply reinforce the fears that hold Americans back from using their hard-earned vacation days.

Let’s take a look at the anatomy of these “helpful” tips, shall we?

When an article starts by providing advice on taking time off “without fearing for your job,” you know we’re off to a strong start. Sure, it’s saying how to take your time without fear of losing your job or being replaced, but it’s also implying that you have something to fear. Can we really expect Americans to use their vacation days if we keep perpetuating the idea that we’ll be fired or replaced if we aren’t always “on?”

I could’ve forgiven the headline if the article hadn’t gone on to advise, “Be reachable while on vacation.” There’s a case to be made for staying plugged in, but it should be a personal choice, not an expectation.

“Train your replacement,” and “Have someone watching your back,” have some validity, but again, the wording here implies something more sinister. It makes great business sense to have employees capable of stepping in when someone is out, whether for vacation, illness, or other reasons. But perhaps instead of the word “replacement,” the author could have simply said, “colleague.” Same with the “watch your back” sentiment. It could have been as simple as reminding readers that it’s important to help one another with respective workloads, so everyone can take time off.

Another article I came across took things even further, encouraging workers to buy “unconditional trip insurance.” That sends the absolute wrong message. There are very few circumstances where only one person in a company is capable of a particular duty. Perhaps if you are, say, the only neurosurgeon who has ever done a certain procedure before, or the President of the United States (and even presidents need vacation). The point is, it’s a short list. For everyone else, there is (or should be) someone who can step in. I’ll reiterate that it’s smart and advantageous for businesses to cross-train employees, so that everyone is able to take time off without the company missing a beat. It doesn’t diminish the employee’s value or contributions, but it may increase their happiness, engagement, and desire to stay with that company.

Another tip from the same piece: “Don’t flaunt your vacation too much upon return.” We shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about vacation in the office! It is a benefit that is part of employee compensation—no one would have any issue sharing that they joined the office FitBit competition or invested in the 401K plan. In fact, we should be talking about vacation a lot more, particularly managers (the most powerful time off influencer). Yet, two-thirds of employees say they hear almost nothing about time off, and that culture of silence is making our vacation problem that much worse. 

Americans need to get a grip. Forgoing vacation time is not the path to success—in fact, our research has found quite the opposite. We need to take our vacation time and be proud of it. We will be better off personally and for our companies.

Here’s some advice we can all agree on: set aside time to crack open that calendar and plan your next vacation.   

August 30, 2016