More than 50 million American workers are expected to forgo an average of three vacation days each this year, according to a survey by Expedia.com. Most Americans get approximately 18 vacation days per year but only use 14. That means we give back more than 438 million days when we could be barbecuing at the beach, hiking in the mountains or kicking back at home. Why do you suppose so many of us miss out on hard-earned time off? Guilt was the primary reason listed by 39 percent of the men surveyed, and 30 percent of women seconded that. Since U.S. workers get less vacation time than counterparts in Great Britain, Germany, France and Spain, that's pretty sad.
I see this scenario played out among my coaching clients. While most want to spend time with friends and family or recharge their batteries, they experience a push-pull when it comes to unplugging from the office. Most handle it by taking three or four-day weekends and calling those vacations. Or, if they take a week off, they stay connected to the office by phone, e-mail or both. In fact, according to a CareerBuilders.com poll, one in five employees work during vacations.
But some folks have figured out how to cure – or, at least, manage – the dreaded Vacation Deprivation Syndrome. One of my clients, a senior financial executive I'll call Karla, considers vacations sacrosanct. Even though Karla experiences guilt when she's wrapping up loose ends or handing off projects to co-workers, she insists on taking the hard-won four weeks of vacation that she negotiated with her employer.
Unlike her colleagues in the high-pressure corporate environment, Karla often takes three consecutive weeks each year. She wants a stretch of time for international travel, and she finds that she can't unwind for the first four or five days of vacation. Karla plans travel when workloads are lightest, never during tax season or fiscal year-end. She also lets everyone in the office know her travel schedule and availability in advance.
For example, if she's vacationing in Europe, Karla lets her boss and assistant know that she'll check e-mail once a day, and she gives them an international cellphone number in case of emergencies. But if she's out of range, such as when she toured the Amazon, she tells them when she'll be back in touch. Working out a plan and ignoring occasional guilt pangs help her reconcile a demanding career with a passion for travel.
Another client I'll call Mark owns a small copywriting business. Mark deals with vacations in a different way. He and his family take two weeks off each summer and rent a cottage on the North Carolina coast, inviting friends and relatives to join them. Mark brings his laptop and balances a leisurely work schedule with playtime. Because he lets clients know that he's scaling back his work for two weeks and charges accordingly, Mark is able to enjoy his vacation and come back to the office with renewed creativity. Try these tips for a guilt-free vacation:
Plan early and clue everyone in. Let your bosses, assistants, co-workers and clients know your itinerary.
Decide how reachable you want to be. Again, manage others' expectations by letting them know when, where and how often they can contact you.
Unplug from appliances and plug into people and places. Resist the urge to constantly check your Blackberry, iPhone, or voicemail - especially if you're vacationing with kids. Rest assured that you'll come back renewed, refreshed and better equipped to handle the hassles of the job.
As for me? I'm going trekking in Bhutan in the Himalayan mountains with my son for his high school graduation celebration. I plan to adopt a very Zen attitude, i.e. I'll be plugging out!