By Courtney Connley
As a partner at a law firm, Chief Member Amy Epstein Gluck rarely takes time away from work. “We have a bit of a different model where it’s like you eat what you kill,” she says, while explaining that paid vacation time looks different for her because she gets paid based on when her clients pay. That’s why, for 10 years, Gluck hadn’t taken a real vacation where she was fully unplugged from work. But the vacation strike ended this year when her kids, husband, and law partner convinced her to take a week-long break.
“It was absolutely heavenly because I've never been away for a week where I did not check my work email — and that's really a big thing,” she says. “We're so bound to technology, to our phones, and we think we need to be there 24/7. But, when we create space for ourselves to really just breathe and look at the ocean, or look at the mountain, or look at the river, it really resets you cognitively and puts you in such a better place when you come back to work.”
Like Gluck, many executives fall prey to the non-stop grind culture that convinces them that all work and no rest is the key to success. Even amid a pandemic with rising rates of burnout and exhaustion, studies show that an overwhelming majority of Americans shortened, postponed, or canceled their time off in 2020, with a Capital One report showing that 52% of business owners today have not taken a vacation in the past year.
But even before the pandemic disrupted our lives and the way we work, taking advantage of PTO was still uncommon for many workers. In 2018, for example, the U.S. Travel Association reported that a record 768 million vacation days were unused, equating to $65.5 billion in lost benefits.
Gluck, who has now seen first-hand the mental and overall health benefits of stepping away from work, says it’s on leaders to encourage employees to take time off in order to improve staff well-being and retention. According to the American Psychological Association, more than half of Americans who return to work after a vacation say their mood is more positive, they have more energy, and they feel less stressed. Additionally, 58% said they were more productive following time off and 55% said their work quality was better.
For leaders looking to encourage more rest in the workplace in order to improve company culture and productivity, Gluck says there are few steps you can follow.
Lead By Example
Gluck explains that leaders are responsible for setting the tone at work. Therefore, when a boss refuses to take time off she says it sends a message to other employees that taking a vacation is discouraged and maybe even frowned upon.
“You know what got me to go to Mexico? My general counsel was going to Mexico and my assistant was going to Mexico,” she says. “So when your subordinates see that you’re doing it they think, ‘Oh it can be done and nobody is going to think the worst of you.’”
According to leadership burnout coach Dr. Kim Hires, executives should look to take one mental health day per month in order to maintain their own well-being and to signal permission to staff that it’s a good thing to take time off.
Amplify Those Who Do Take Vacation
In addition to taking advantage of company PTO days yourself, Gluck says leaders should not be afraid to applaud employees who also take vacation. “Call it out in team meetings and staff meetings and say, ‘Welcome back X. It’s great to see you and I’m glad that you’re jumping in with such alacrity to this project. You must be really refreshed from vacation.’” Doing this, she says, will send an encouraging message to other team members who are contemplating how they will be received after being away from the office.
Having great benefits such as unlimited PTO and vacation days is only good if a company’s culture allows space for employees to fully unplug without feeling guilty or overwhelmed by work demands. That’s why, Gluck says it’s critical that leaders honor vacation boundaries by not sending emails and meeting requests when an individual is on vacation. And, it’s important that they model this behavior themselves by not responding or sending emails when they’re supposed to be out of office.
“Leave your employees alone when they're on vacation,” she says, while explaining that if a boss texts or emails a staff member 24/7 while they’re away and another colleague finds out, then that colleague will easily be discouraged from taking time off. “When you leave people alone to actually recharge without penalizing them, and in fact amplify the message that it's awesome and cool to take vacation, more people will take it,” Gluck adds.
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