Jan Yager, Ph.D.
VACATION: Working on Peace of Mind
By Jan Yager, Ph.D.

This article originally appeared in Newsday (March 1, 1988) and is edited and reprinted here for educational purposes only. All rights reserved. Jan Yager, Ph.D. is a consultant, speaker, and author on workplace issues. www.janyager.com Phone (203) 968-8098 Address: 1127 High Ridge Road, #110,m Stamford, CT 06905 e-mail: jyager@aol.com For reprint consideration, contact Dr. Yager.)

Are workers who take vacations seen as less dedicated? Ironically, just the opposite is true.

"Individuals need to feel responsible for their own health and career and to take a vacation and not be intimidated by the company," says John Sturges, president of Siebrand-Wilton Associates Inc., a Marlboro, N.J., and New York City human resources consulting firm. "Managers usually respect the employees who feel comfortable enough with their job that they can take the time off. It's a sign of how well they have organized their work. "

Some workers may incorrectly fear that taking a vacation means possibly losing their job, but by failing t6 take one "they may lose their minds," says Pamela Fiori, former editor-in-chief of Travel & Leisure magazine. "The philosophy of the magazine, and my personal philosophy, is that it is absolutely important that the work ethic is balanced out with the play ethic or escape ethic, whether a small time, like weekends, or going the distance and going away, far away, for two or three weeks." (Taking her own advice, Fiori has even started to take off the afternoon of her birthday as a vacation day.)

For most workers, there has been little change in the amount of vacation time since the 1970s, when "there was a lot of emphasis on quality of work life and more leisure time," notes Sturges. The vacation policies that went into effect then are still common today: two weeks after the first year, three weeks after five, and four weeks after 15.

But today, because of insecurity about jobs or a return of the work ethic, employees are working longer hours and taking less of their vacation time. (Indeed, a development in the late 1990s, has been the "mini" vacation or a weekend and even one day vacations.) With the introduction of flexible compensation packages—whereby benefits can be tailored to each employee—some companies are allowing employees to "buy back" any unused vacation in excess of two weeks.

Experts agree, however, that some time off from the job is a necessity for a worker’s mental health and for family relationships that have so much influence on his or her health and productivity. Says burn-out expert Herbert J. Freudenberger: "It's essential, especially at a time of stress at work, that they manage to take time off - a few days or a long weekend, if possible a week. It's essential for replenishing. You have a clearer head and a better perspective about the politics of your corporation."

If you get at least two weeks, your first vacation decision is whether you will take it consecutively, or split it up. "I don't know of any research that shows whether it takes one or two weeks to unwind," says organizational psychologist Cary Cherniss. "Study yourself. Think back to vacations you had and how you reacted to each one," says Cherniss. "That's probably the best guideline. Some people need just a day, and if they're away longer, they get anxious. Other people, it's only after they've been away a week that they begin to unwind."

What is the best time to take your vacation? Some companies may require taking it when business is slow. Others may shut down and have company-wide vacations, such as the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, making the decision for you. But if you do have some choice, pick the weeks that are best for you and your family. Since so many schedules have to be coordinated, get your request in quickly to ensure your first or second favored periods.

There is also the "use it or lose it" policy that some companies follow. A company might have been forced to adopt it because a departing employee "perhaps after 30 years put in for as much as 100 days of accrued vacation time," explains Diana Gernannt, an outplacement consultant who was vice president of human resources for 7 years for a major motion picture company. A new policy required vacation days to be taken within the calendar year, plus the first quarter of the next year. "Companies have the responsibility to publicize their vacation policy well," says Gernannt. But employees also have to do their share by reading their benefits booklets, or talking to their human resource department, to clarify it.

What if you are self-employed? You still need to map out time each year for at least one vacation, for yourself, first and foremost; your business and family will also benefit. To reduce the stress associated with the "What will happen to my business when I am away?" question associated with vacations, take the time to work out strategies to handle phone calls, incoming mail, emergency situations, and other issues relating to your business.

Make It Easy to Take It Easy

Here are tips on how to make your vacations more refreshing with less anxiety about what you've left behind:

  • Pick up some of the workload of a vacationing co-worker so he or she will reciprocate when you are away. Right before your vacation (and afterwards), plan to put in late nights or early mornings getting ahead (or caught up).
  • Make sure a superior will know your vacation whereabouts by providing any and all phone numbers. Designate someone to call while you're away if something occurs that you should know about.
  • Tell management what weeks you'd like to take off, but do your actual vacation dreaming or planning away from the job, or you may be seen as wasting company time with personal matters.
  • Put effort into where you and your family would vacation best. Research and plan it, taking into account what you like to do and the cost. Plan something that matches your non-work interests, such as tennis camp, hiking or going on an archaeological dig. Sitting on a beach may help one person to unwind, but another might find it boring. Combining an out-of-town work-related conference and a vacation may work for some but not for others.
  • If money is a concern, take your vacation anyway, even if you just plan an "at home" one -- exploring local beaches or lakes, relaxing in the backyard or at a local park, reading, getting together with friends, spending time with your family – as you at least change your workday routine.
Speaker · Consultant · Author · Trainer
Jan Yager, Ph.D. 1127 High Ridge Road, Suite 110, Stamford, CT 06905 · Phone: 203-968-8098 · Fax: 203-968-0193 · E-mail: jyager@aol.com · Web Site: http://www.janyager.com