Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Take a Vacation...Unless You're Looking for Work

December 21st, 2004 | Paula Brantner

It’s supposed to be the time of year when things slow down a little. But often it doesn’t work out quite that way, with year-end quotas and court deadlines that won’t budge even for the holidays. But new research is finding out that taking time off isn’t just a luxury, but a necessity for good health and longevity. So it’s important to find time away from work not just to be with your family, but to be around for your family in holidays to come. In fact, the only people who shouldn’t be taking a vacation right now are job hunters, as experts claim that right now is a very good time to land that next job.

It’s harder than ever to take a good vacation away from work. You can start with the very limited amount of time available to employees for vacations in the first place. American workers logged 1,815 hours in 2002, 500 more than some European workers, 100 more than Australian, Canadian, Japanese, or Mexican workers. (See Short-Changed: Nobody Home) There are 96 other countries which guarantee paid annual (vacation) leave, but the United States is not one of them. (See AlterNet article.) So if you are allowed to take some vacation time this time of year, you’re one of the lucky ones.

What if you’re one of those who work in industries where you can’t take off for the holidays? You’re not alone: whether you provide emergency services on a 24/7 basis, or host the meals for all of those holiday parties, there are some for whom the holidays means extra stress and no time off. There are many, however, whose positive attitude we can emulate, such as Lee Larson, who is a nurse on a Tennessee LifeFlight helicopter. He says that he’s started to see working over the holidays as special: he’s able to both be useful to others over the holidays, and can avoid all the highway gridlock he sees only from his helicopter. One counselor reminds those who are working to remind themselves, “At least I have a job. I have a roof over my head. I have heat.” (See The Tennessean article.)

If you do get time away, how can you make it meaningful? Experts have shared some tips for making vacations truly restful. Although they sound so logical when you read them, they still bear repeating, especially to our readers who are the incredibly hard-working employee rights advocates, since I know you don’t always practice what you preach. One consultant urges the following principles regarding time away:

    Arrange your responsibilities so that clients and colleagues can function in your absence.

    Make contingency plans: Find someone to cover for you and make an arrangement that you’re going to cover for them when they go away, and plan with your whole team so nobody feels they get an unexpected burden.

    Prepare your clients and colleagues so they expect you to be away.

    Be disciplined about checking your e-mail and voicemail while you’re away, if you absolutely have to check in. That means setting a regular time to check in, but not six times a day and hopefully not even every day.

    If you leave an emergency number where you can be reached, “define what you mean by urgent” beforehand to avoid being called about trivial matters.

(See Associated Press article.)

And for those of you who are bosses, here are some guidelines to make the holidays less stressful for your employees, based on a recent survey by Accenture:

    Allowing flexible hours

    Being sensitive to work/life balance

    Allowing vacation or time off

    Being understanding about personal commitments

    Organizing holiday activities among employees

    Allowing telecommuting

    Holiday bonuses

(See Ventura County Star article.)

How important is it to take time off? New research shows it could be a matter of life and death. Workplace columnist Anne Fisher (Ask Annie) reports on the recent release of the Framingham Heart Study. The results were pretty startling:

[W]omen who took two or more vacations a year cut their risk of a fatal heart attack in half, as opposed to women who took no vacations. Similarly, men in the study who took frequent vacations were 32% less likely to die of heart attacks—and 17% less likely to die of other causes—than men who took no breaks.

(See Fortune column.) Fisher cites corporate coach Lois Frankel, who recommends employees heed the following principles:

    Unused vacation time never makes or breaks a career.

    Try taking shorter, more frequent vacations.

    Schedule your vacations at the start of the year.

    Develop a passion outside the office.

So, hopefully it’s clear at this point that you need to be taking a vacation very soon. There’s one exception, however: those who are job hunting should maintain or even escalate their efforts. Those involved in the business of hiring employees say that contrary to popular belief, the holidays are a good time to find a new job. Some of the reasons why:

    Some businesses want to make hires on this year’s budget in case cutbacks come next year, or they have unspent money;

    Recruiters are looking to fill leftover openings;

    Some companies are planning for next year’s staffing needs, so they can hit the ground running come Jan. 1 and not worry about hiring.

(See USA Today article.)

For once, I will take my own advice, and will be on vacation next week. Posts to the blog and the Workplace Fairness weekly newsletter will not resume until early 2005. Happy holidays to everyone, whether you’re working, taking a vacation, or looking for work!

More information about the movement to increase time off:

Time for Bread and Roses

Take Back Your Time

Catching up on your reading over the holidays?

WF’s Recommended Reading List

Support Workplace Fairness with a purchase from Powell’s Books

E-mail us your recommended book

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