I just got back from my annual two-week vacation at the Jersey Shore. It...was...wonderful! I love the work I do, and am so grateful to be able to do this work, and I was ready for some down time to feed my soul. I think we all need to get away once in a while to relax and refresh. Yet it's astounding how many people don't take that opportunity!
In fact, in 2016, more than half of American workers - 54% - left vacation days unused, according to a recent survey by Project: Time Off, who studies American vacation habits. This means that 662 million vacation days were left on the table, and since some of those days had to be forfeited (since they couldn’t be rolled over, banked or paid out) American workers gave up $66.4 billion in benefits in 2016. Seriously?
Here are some more startling facts from the Project: Time Off report.
-Unused vacation days cost the U.S. economy $236 billion in 2016, due to lost spending
-That spending would have supported 1.8 million American jobs, and generated $70 billion in additional income for American workers
-If the 54% of workers who left time unused took just one more day off, it would drive $33 billion in economic impact
So why are Americans so reluctant to take vacations? Some often-cited reasons (ahem, excuses) are: heavy workload, lack of money to “go anywhere” and the perception that people who take time off are less dedicated.
It may also stem from the fact that the United States is the only advanced economy that does not require its employers to offer their workers paid vacation time. In their report, No-Vacation Nation researchers at the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that:
-Nearly one-fourth of U.S. companies offer no paid time off
-Those companies that do offer an average of only 10 days vacation per year
Compare this to European countries where employers are required by law to offer at least 20 days per year. And they expect their employees to take it! In Austria, the typical employee gets 25 days annual leave plus 13 paid holidays. Now that’s a vacation!
It amazes me that so many people in the U.S. who DO have the opportunity to take time off don’t take it. Even those working for companies that have unlimited or more generous than average time off policies.
Back to that 54%. If you’re in that category, you are missing out on myriad benefits from getting away from the office. And I mean REALLY getting away. Not just moving your electronics to the beach! Research shows that time away from work:
-Improves overall health
-Increases creativity (New experiences! Different scenery!)
-Provides for quality time with family
-Ignites neural connections (increasing your brain power, and that’s got to be good!)
-Increases productivity upon return
So what are you waiting for? You still have plenty of time before the winter weather sets in, and popular vacation spots are less crowded in the fall. Even if you take a “staycation” (note: without electronics), you’ll feel better for it. Your family will feel better for it. And, yes, the company will survive while you’re gone.
Till next time,
How many times in the last six months have you said “yes” to something you really didn’t want to do? Or allowed yourself to be burdened with meeting expectations that were unreasonable or out of your control? Or avoided saying something when a person or situation made you uncomfortable? Most of us have been in one or more of these situations at some point. We kick ourselves afterward for acquiescing, yet may rationalize it by the desire to be “seen as a team player,” or, not wanting to “hurt someone’s feelings.” Here’s the problem with this. We teach people how we want to be treated. And when we keep saying “yes” when we’re thinking “no” and don’t set and communicate our limits – our boundaries – people are going to keep asking us, and expecting us, to do things we don’t want to do, or to do more than originally agreed. (Can we say “scope creep?”) Eventually we become resentful. And when we finally draw the line, it may not be pretty. Better to set, communicate and maintain your personal boundaries up front. Here’s how.
Be self-aware. Knowing your boundaries starts with understanding your values and what’s important to you. If having personal downtime in the evening or family time on the weekend is important to you, then you would want to make it clear that you’re offline in the evenings and not working on weekends. Difficult, I know, in this always-connected work environment. And, this environment was created by all of us who said “yes” to being always connected and working a ridiculous number of hours in the week (including weekends!) It’s up to us to change it.
Set your boundaries. Decide what your boundaries are. Prioritize them. Write them down. Internalize them. Practice saying them in front of the mirror. Give yourself permission to have boundaries and acknowledge the benefits – more respect from others; more respect for yourself; less stress and anxiety and/or feelings of resentment; more free time; more time to focus on the projects you want to do, etc.
Communicate them. Be direct. If you don’t want your boss and co-workers contacting you at all hours, be specific about the times you’re available. On projects, manage others’ expectations up front with regard to what you’re capable of and the timeframe in which you can achieve it. Be very clear about scope, and the cost – in time, dollars or other work – when scope expands beyond that.
Learn to say no. Saying “no” is hard, especially when it’s to your leader, or to someone whose relationship you value. Yet as workplace communication consultant Diane Amundson says, “Good bosses appreciate employees who have the confidence to say no.” It’s all in how you frame it.
Challenge the stories that hold you back. Think about times in the past when you’ve said “yes” and later regretted it. Or allowed yourself to be taken advantage of. What held you back from being more direct? Fear of losing your job? Fear of disappointing the other person? Most people are unaware of how their actions impact us unless we tell them, and will appreciate being told what our limits are.
Be consistent. Once you’ve established and communicated your boundaries, work to maintain them. This will help educate others how to treat you, and will contribute to your well-being and peace of mind.
“I encourage people to remember that “No” is a complete sentence.” - Gavin de Becker
Till next time, Karen
There’s a cartoon about perception that I use in one of my leadership development workshops. It has two men standing at opposite ends of a number – one at the top, and one at the bottom. One man points to the number says “six.” The other man points to the number and says, “nine.” Who’s right?
It’s all a matter of perspective.
Think about the last time you had a heated discussion with someone. (Given our current political climate, this shouldn’t be much of a stretch. Hence the reason I’m covering this topic!) Did you stay firmly rooted on your side “of the number,” or did you pause to walk around to the other side to try to look at it a bit differently? It’s hard, I know. We each live in a world of beliefs we’ve developed based on what we’ve observed, learned and experienced over our lifetime. Yet it’s worth the effort.
In his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Peter Senge talks about the Ladder of Inference, which describes the thinking process we go through – usually subconsciously - to get from a fact to a decision or action. Visualize a ladder. Starting with reality and facts at the bottom of the ladder and then moving upward, we:
• Select from the facts based on our beliefs and prior experience
• Interpret what they mean
• Apply our existing assumptions, sometimes without validating them
• Draw conclusions based on how we interpreted the facts and our assumptions
• Develop beliefs based on our conclusions
• Take actions and form opinions that seem “right’ because they are based on what we believe
When we do this on a regular basis, we become so stuck in our thinking that we find it nearly impossible to consider a new, different or more collaborative way of looking at things.
I’d like to suggest that in the interest of more effective dialogues, better relationships and enhanced personal wellness, we all make the effort to get unstuck. All too often conversations are shut down because opinions vary, and no one wants to risk their stance by probing for a deeper understanding of someone else’s.
Here’s what you can do. Stop. Look. Listen.
Stop. Before you go scrambling up your perception ladder, stop for a minute to evaluate your thought process. Do you have all the facts? Is their source reliable? Are you making assumptions about the facts – or the other person – without validating them?
Look. Look for opportunities to learn about views different from your own. Observe different approaches to doing things. Even simple things, like making coffee, writing a report, conducting a meeting, painting a room. Being open to diverse opinions and approaches helps us understand that different is not necessarily wrong.
Listen. Turn down the heat when opinions differ by expressing an interest in why the other person believes as they do. Ask the question and then really listen to the answer. Be open to looking at the issue slightly differently once you’ve heard the reasoning behind their point of view.
The experience may change your opinion, or not. Or it may strengthen and validate it. Either way, you will have learned something.
“What you see depends not only on what you look at, but where you look from.” – James Deacon