Vacations - imperative! Don't even ask.

I'm always astonished by clients who ask whether they should take some vacation time. Sometimes, they feel guilty about leaving work behind. Sometimes, they feel pressure--real or imagined--from management, especially in cultures that don't think vacations show commitment to the job. Other times, they’re just reflecting the overall culture (Wall Street--do you hear me?  Giant law firms--same?). In those cultures, workers brag about how many hours they work--and how little vacation time they take.

Of course, there are times when it isn't a great idea to take off. In my role as consultant at Columbia Business School, I know there are three different two-month periods during the year when it's just not possible to get away. I also understand that some bankers and attorneys, for instance, cannot walk out in the middle of a deal. 

But to not take vacation, and then brag about it, is a whole other thing.  

It's what I call "leaving money on the table." Vacation is part of compensation. Why would you not take money that is being handed to you or you negotiated for? When I teach a course in Salary Negotiations, I love to joke that on my ultimate negotiating list, number one is vacation time--and the financial stuff is further down the list. (I'm only half joking.)  

More important, it's critical that you have time, at various points in the year, to regenerate. You do need to get away from it all. I had a client, years ago, an investment banker who actually asked me if I thought it would be okay for him to check emails a few times a day while on vacation-- on his honeymoon!   

The answer is yes, there are certain jobs where you do have to check, but it needs to be kept to a minimum. Like maybe once a day for a few minutes. The purpose of the vacation is defeated if you're answering emails all day. It's tough to compartmentalize into vacation and non-vacation, while you're actually trying to BE on vacation.

All this is on my mind now as I reach the end of a long vacation. (It's been great.) Because there are some emergencies in my work, I do check email once a day, and try to answer only critical issues. But I realize when I do more than that, it wipes out the feeling of being away. A definite downside to this age of connectedness. It's getting harder to say you won't have email access in your vacation auto response, because there aren't that many places left where you can’t get any access!  

So I keep away from the computer, iPad, and mobile phone as much as possible. They sit there calling out to me, but I resist. The vacation is more important. 

photo credit: Carola Chase