Vacations

I have spent most of my time writing about business and leadership and work. I going to veer off into a little bit of a different area here and write about what is supposed to be the antithesis of business and work, and that is vacations. Vacations are part of your total compensation package. Vacations are supposed to be the time that the company pays you not to work, to recharge your batteries so to speak, to get a tan. Vacations are something that we seem never to have enough available time to properly take. Vacations are an interesting concept in that they truly seem to vary in definition and application from company to company and definitely from culture to culture.

For example, I don’t think I can remember taking a vacation that lasted longer than a week. I think part of this stems from the idea that we all like to view ourselves as far too important to the ongoing operation of the business to be gone from our roles for periods of time extending beyond this. Equally I think there is a fear that if we do take a vacation that extends beyond a week, we may have it proven to each of us that we are in fact not so crucial to the efficient operation of the business and that they can get along just as well and possibly even better without us. There is also the possibility that if some people are gone from their job for more than a week that they will need to be retrained on how to do their work when they return.

The other issue associated with taking an extended (greater than a week long vacation) is the inability of the business to leave you alone for greater than a week. I have been on two-day vacations where I have gotten calls (usually more than one) from the office. It is interesting to note that these calls while on vacation have seldom originated from my team but rather invariably come from management. It seems that here management believes that if they are not on vacation, then no one should be on vacation.

The exception to this no extended vacation trend at least in the United States seems to occur toward the end of the year when many in business start reviewing how many vacation days they have, that they are going to lose if they do not start taking vacation. In the past many companies allowed their employees to carry over their unused vacation days into subsequent years if they were either unable or decided not to take all their vacation. This resulted in many people having an inordinate amount of vacation available to them, and created a significant exposure to the businesses. I think at least part of this practice came from the idea that when businesses had layoffs that they had to pay the severed employee for their unused vacation. If you had saved up a bunch of unused vacation days it was like guaranteeing yourself extra severance pay, should you need it.

Businesses countered this “banking” of vacation days by disallowing the carrying over of unused vacation days between years. The desired result was the reduction of the vacation exposure to companies and the encouragement of employees to adopt the attitude of either “use it or lose it” when it came to their vacation.

This seemed to work, but only up to a point. After so many years of not taking vacations a culture had almost grown up around the concept of not taking vacations. This approach to not taking vacations didn’t change, and in some instances and locations it still hasn’t changed. The result is that as the end of the year approaches many employees find themselves with several days of vacation that they still must take or lose.

People will not accept the loss of vacation days. This event is seen by the employees as comparable to giving the company free work days as the company no longer compensates them for, nor allows them to save the unused vacation days for future use. This invariably leads to people taking extra days of vacation around the end of the year holiday season in an effort to use up their vacation.

Fortunately most people take their business phone with them during these vacation periods just in case either their team or management need to talk with them. It seems some habits die hard.

It is hard to believe that taking a vacation has become such an effort or an afterthought when it seems to be such a prized portion of each employee’s compensation package. What was once seen as a time to relax and recharge is now yet another source of stress associated with making sure that all vacation days available are in fact taken.

This does not seem to be either the situation or such an issue in other countries and cultures around the world.

In Europe time off is not referred to as vacation. It is called holiday. A slightly different nomenclature than what we are used to in North America but still functionally useful. For those of you not familiar with this term, there is a descriptive term for European vacations that you may be a little more familiar with.

It is called “August”.

It seems that almost everyone in Europe goes on holiday (vacation) in August. It’s true. If you don’t believe me, just try and arrange a business meeting or complete a business task there during August. In Europe when they go on holiday, they are gone. And unlike here it does not seem quite as acceptable to try and contact them when they are on holiday.

This is actually not a bad idea. If everyone knows that everyone else is going to be out of the office during a specific time that becomes the ideal time for them to be out of the office as well. Since everyone is on holiday at the same time no one is left in the office to be concerned about any potential lost productivity.

There are similar types of vacation or holiday times in countries around the world. In Brazil there is Carnival, which for the longest time I thought was Portuguese for “February”. In reality it is approximately a week long holiday associated with the Easter – Lent season. However it appears that it takes approximately a week to prepare for, and if properly enjoyed, may take as much as an additional week to recover from. This period could in fact be considered a holiday.

In Asia the Chinese New Year is another extended holiday season. It is usually a multi-day celebration that begins on the first day of the month (usually February) and extends approximately 15 days to the first new moon. Again an extended holiday period that usually serves as a basis point for the taking of vacation. Have you ever tried to get much done during the Chinese New Year in Asia?

The culture seems to be changing here in that people are now encouraged to take their vacation. What it appears that we need is some sort of cultural or specific “holiday season” or event (other than the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons) to provide an impetus for people to take their vacation. And while management may have succeeded in getting people to take their vacations, management must now take the lead in demonstrating and understanding that when people are on vacation that they should not be called with issues regarding work.

Bon Voyage.

Leave a Reply