By Leah Fessler
We have news: You deserve some time off.
The discomfort of being told to take vacation is a symptom of the delusion that successful people don't need breaks. We can work at full-speed, push through exhaustion, and still land the promotion. We can be “superwomen,” as Chief Member Tara Goldman explains, noting that for women, "doing it all," isn't an option — it's an expectation. These delusions are at the heart of high attrition for women in the C-Suite. They help us burn out and fire ourselves.
To understand why vacation is so essential for leaders, especially during a ceaselessly exhausting pandemic, we must first understand what vacation is.
"Everyone has this idea that vacation means you have to get on a plane, go to Europe, or do something with your passport," says Diana Gonzales-Ricard, LCSW. "But vacation simply means disconnecting from all responsibility. Turning off the electronics. Spending a day in the park."
When planning a vacation, you don't need to spend a lot of money or plan at all. Simply focus on activities you genuinely enjoy and ensure no one is counting on you. "For me, the ideal vacation might be reading a book in the backyard with my dogs," says Gonzales-Ricard. If you prefer to go to the beach, go to the beach. Call an old friend. Watch TV without simultaneously answering emails. Braid your kid's hair. Listen to some music.
If this approach to vacation seems mundane, consider what happens when you overlook it.
"In a nutshell, you cannot give what you do not have," says Carol Kauffman, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and Founder of Institute of Coaching. "If what you need is deep energy to manage an impossible swirl of challenges, you have to replenish yourself. If you burn out you help no one."
If you're always on the go, eventually you become ineffective. "We'd never consider constantly operating our cars at 90 miles per hour going up a vertical hill, but that’s what we're doing to our bodies and minds," says Gonzales-Ricard.
Describing one client who is an executive and never feels like she can actually take time off, Gonzales-Ricard notes that only one strategy works: "She has to see what happens when she doesn't let herself unwind. And that's poor sleep, poor eating habits, weight gain she can't do anything about, irritability with her family, and worse performance at work. What she needs to realize is that all of these reactions are connected."
Ultimately, vacation is a choice. You choose to take some time off, or you choose to crash. To clarify, "crashing" is rarely falling to your knees and dissolving in a puddle of your own tears. "Crashing is being bone tired, short-tempered, unmotivated, overly stimulated, or even losing your phone every day in your own apartment," says Kauffman. The real damage of our hustle-obsessed culture is that many of us have been crashing for months, without even knowing it. "As a leader of an organization you withstand pressure that could crush an ordinary person," she continues. "Therefore, you convince yourself you're up to any task simply if you can will yourself to do it."
Beyond personally recharging, your employees' health and productivity also depend on your willingness to model vacation best practices. If you don't clarify that taking vacation is expected and beneficial, your team won't take it. If they don't take it, they will burn out. What's more, leadership vacation is a valuable opportunity for talent to flex up. If you're always available, they cannot grow. Let your direct reports know that your time out is their time to step up.
"From the top down, there needs to be education that if you don't take care of yourself, you will eventually become a liability to your team," says Gonzales-Ricard. "The standard needs to be set that taking vacation is good, and that when you're off, you're off. No emailing, no checking in. As a leader, if you do that yourself, they'll feel confident doing the same."
While fear of lost productivity can be valid, the importance of vacation hinges on long-term success. "If you acknowledge your workers' need to shut down, you will get 110% percent from them when they get back," Gonzales concludes. "If you invest in your employees as people, as human beings, you'll get loyalty. And at the end of the day, that's what's most important."
Originally Published: September 8, 2020