Summer travel season is upon us, so use your damn PTO people!

Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa - Tahiti

Don’t work on vacation. Just don’t.

As a former CEO, I am here today to give you permission to not only take your vacation, but remind you to not to work during your trip.

Not only do I want you to use your entire vacation allotment, but I want you to actually enjoy it.

Too often, during my career as an employer did I have employees who wanted to be a hero…they wanted to look as if they did not need to take their vacation.

So they would do the most logical thing possible. They wouldn’t take any.

Ok, well that isn’t entirely true. These employees would take some, but it would be so minimal compared to their full PTO allotment.

As a boss, I wanted all of my employees to take as much time off as they were allotted.

We had a standard of 4 weeks of vacation, plus we also had all of the standard American holidays, which amounted to an extra 10 days.

So you are staring 6 weeks of vacation in the face, but then you refuse to take any of it? It isn’t healthy.

Worse, the employees who did this, were oftentimes not the most productive employees.

Time off will boost your productivity, creativity, and mental health!

Look, I am not going to claim that vacations are an end all, be all. They aren’t a solution to the world’s problems.

But they may be a solution to your problems.

For me personally, even running companies I loved and working 40 hours or less, I was still emotionally and mentally exhausted from time to time.

I realized fairly early on how highly I value vacations. I might be really stuck in a rut mentally pre-vacation….But then post-vacation, I come back refreshed and ready to kick down some doors again.

And that is just the work benefits. The personal benefits of vacation, spending more time with your significant other, or family, or experiencing new things. That is priceless.

Vacation works. Mental breaks work. Refusing to take time off – that doesn’t work.

Being “on” 24/7 can lead to a number of physical and emotional health effects. This can include stress, depression, fatigue, body aches, and it’s making your heart work overtime. As a result your productivity stalls.

Why taking time off increases your productivity – Calendar.com

Calendar.com goes on to to list of reasons why vacation is so important:

  • “Boosts creativity”
  • “Traveling gives you a new perspective”
  • “You get to process ideas”
  • “Nature helps you focus”
  • “Reduces stress”

I couldn’t agree more. And this is why I have always championed taking as much vacation as possible.

I prefer to work smarter, not harder in all facets of life.

Avoid burnout

Can you guess what happened to the employees who refused to take really any vacation at all during the year?

They burned out.

This happened in a couple of different ways.

First, it would happen where they would work themselves to the ground to the point that it was so obvious they weren’t operating at peak levels, or anywhere close.

Whenever this happened, as a boss, the only thing you can do is literally force your employee to take a vacation. “Take next week off. In fact, please don’t come back until you are well rested and feeling yourself.”

The second way this happened was that they would leave. Yep, they would work themselves to the ground so much that they could not face continuing at their current job. They became unhappy, they resented their job, and they resented the company.

This was probably the worst way to see a good employee leave. Did I as a boss fail to get across the point that your employment is not dependent on the amount of days that you work?

Certainly I have to own that perhaps somewhere in the company there was a breakdown between our policies, my personal example I tried to set, and the tone actually set by others. So yeah, some of this was my fault.

But I think a most of the issue with employees who won’t take vacation is due to the fact that society is programmed wrong.

Societal programming is still a work in progress

Let’s face it. As far as we have come in so many things, our programming is still very messed up in many ways. But it is definitely way off compared to our counterparts in the rest of the world.

European Union legislation mandates that all 27 member states must by law grant all employees a minimum of 4 weeks of paid vacation

Wikipedia

In the United States meanwhile, we have zero mandated days off.

Perhaps, this is part of America’s success? We are a pull up your sleeves, work yourself into the ground, capitalism at all costs, entrepreneurial society.

This is the American way – and it is what has helped turned America into a superpower.

But this hustle culture mentality cannot sustain. And we don’t need to.

You can be more productive today, working less, being more efficient during the hours you do work. You simply need to get better at managing your time.

What about Unlimited PTO?

In my limited experience with Unlimited PTO, it doesn’t do enough to solve the problem.

Early in my career, I worked for a startup that offered it. So I took full advantage taking 4 weeks off each year.

Yet, I would get side mouthed comments from managers, and I began to suspect that it was a hack so that the company could ride you as hard as possible.

It was probably not exactly true, but it sure felt that way at the time.

This is just not a good position to put employees or managers.

I would rather have you tell me, “you have 2 weeks off, and these 5 Holidays” than “you can take as much time as you want.”

It sets a clearer tone from the top if you declare your exact number PTO days. Then you don’t have to worry about anything getting lost in translation.

And don’t work during your vacation

Lastly, I want to tell you not to work on vacation.

Don’t be a hero.

Believe me, I have been there. As an entrepreneur in the early days, I had to deal with various fires here and there. I did have to work on a vacation on few occasions. Thankfully most of these were shorter trips, or family events.

But just don’t do it.

If you don’t feel comfortable not checking in, then you haven’t adequately prepared for your trip. Or you aren’t properly delegating to your employees.

All business should be able to sustain one person leaving for vacation – even the owner and even the CEO.

When taking a longer trip, I always recommend planning in advance.

Schedule your vacations in advance

How is it possible to take 4 weeks of vacation a year as CEO?

Once you have delegated it is quite simple. So simple, that anyone, at any level can do it:

  1. Schedule them at least a month in advance.
  2. Put them on a shared calendar.
  3. Tell everyone very clearly that you will be out of town from x date to y date.
  4. Then remind your team as much as possible, two weeks before, one week before, etc.

Then head off on your vacation, put your phone on airplane mode and enjoy.

Now, go and use your PTO like a boss

Remember, vacation is your time to rejuvenate and avoid burnout.

You’ll also come back being a more productive employee.

You may feel peer pressure to not use your PTO, or to work during your vacation.

I urge you to avoid both. The best way to fight the peer pressure is to set firm boundaries, start dropping hints about your vacation weeks in advance, and ensure that everyone knows that you won’t be available.

Then go and have a great time. Happy summer everyone!

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6 comments

  1. I have always found it interesting that one of items on our “desired” list when we apply for jobs is the amount of vacation time we receive and yet, like you say, the majority of people rarely use much of it. It is indeed sad the the working culture we have somehow adopted in this country is one where people feel as if taking any time off will ultimately hurt their career or stall their career growth trajectory. I think in many cases, however, this is due to overall corporate culture, and sometimes it can be as simple as having very demanding boss/manager. Whatever the reasons though, at the end of the day we are humans. Before we go to work in the morning, we are husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. Our need for good mental and physical health, relationships and connections with others, and to just be happy with our life and the path we are on has to be the foundation of everything. The days pass slowly but the years roll by quickly. If we don’t take the time off to “re-charge our batteries” and spend quality time with our families and friends, burnout is inevitable, and is likely to lead to a great deal of regret and some depression down the road. Lost time is something we can never reclaim. Great post!

    1. Yeah I think ultimately corporate culture dictates this. Even if I as a manager never downgrade your employment reviews based on your vacation, other managers/bosses in other organizations do.

      So then we end up with employees whose former boss said something to them about their PTO and they think that if they use too much of it, they won’t get that promotion or raise they so covet.

      That is likely to be true in many organizations, but hopefully there are enough that we’ve turned the corner. I really believe that to have the most productive employees, you want the happiest and most well rested employees you can have. That means letting them take all their vacation, supporting them if they have a family crisis, giving plenty of time off when they have children, and making sure that they are happy and productive in their current role.

      Business need to make money, but profitability shouldn’t rest on individual human capital alone. It just can’t. An organization is bigger than one person.

  2. One of the challenges to fully utilizing PTO is part corporate culture and part corporate structure. In my organization, the inferred expectation is to take PTO, but then work at least half days. This expectation is reinforced by the behavior of leadership/management who will not set their own boundaries and will schedule and attend meetings or work on deliverables during their time off and then humblebrag about how their efforts “saved” something. Additionally, leadership/management does not set their out of office email message to indicate they are on PTO — so you don’t know! Second, the organization’s structure is not adequately resourced to perform the needed work to meet stated deadlines. This means there are few (if any) resources to which you may delegate. Five years ago, I began to set better boundaries and have been very vocal that I respect other’s time off and expect the same in return. If there is a true emergency, I can be reached by phone or text — but I don’t check email or sign into other systems. Additionally, if I am contacted, the first question I ask is if it is an emergency and explain I’m currently on PTO. 95% of the time I get a quick apology and told to enjoy my time off. The other 5% I am happy to work through. I can reassure readers that I didn’t get fired. The world didn’t end. And the few times I had someone comment about an email they had marked urgent and was surprised I didn’t respond, I replied my out of office message clearly stated I was out of office, on leave and would not be checking email, so I’m curious why they didn’t contact another resource (listed on my out of office message) for assistance. And, if it was a true emergency, my out of office message indicated how I could be reached (phone/text), and they didn’t use either channel.

    1. Yes! That’s great. Even despite hustle culture you were able to set good boundaries.

      Great point about the out of office replies. I would always put that I was away from internet and email. I think this adds an extra boundary.

      I was still contacted from time to time on my vacations, but I also tried to travel to places without cell phone or wifi. You really had to work to get in contact with me.

      Anyways, 100% right about the culture being the main issue, but at least you were able to work around it!

  3. Thanks for the article. I’ve been curious to learn more about people’s experiences with unlimited PTO, so thanks for sharing yours. One of my previous employers was considering this but actually decided against it, for fear that people would take LESS time off and definitely take less than their manager. It’s a really weird behavioral conundrum.

    Personally, I’d love “truly” unlimited PTO but I might also feel weird about taking advantage. Maybe a good solution is x days PAID time off, and an allowance to take “unlimited” unpaid time off on top? Might make people less likely to go nuts or feel like they are taking advantage, but still gives people a chance to take longer vacations once in a while or deal with family emergencies.

    Would be very interested to hear other’s thoughts and experiences on this topic.

    1. We always tried to give people leniency during family emergencies. I had a VP whose mom had brain cancer and a grim diagnosis. We just worked with her to figure out the best way to allow her to take as much time as she needed even despite a strict corporate structure at the time.

      She was able to work periodically, but we mostly just gave her a paid leave of absence to be there for her family.

      Hopefully it created an unspoken rule that if you are dealing with something critical and urgent, we’ll take care of you. Work is not the priority in that situation.

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