If you follow me on Twitter you will probably be aware that I am currently in Italy spending my summer vacation with family and friends. In today’s article I am going to share my experience with time off, and the importance of it for your mind and your career.
I am writing this article because I want to change the conception that vacation is not actually something that company likes. We are going to see some real data and cover a few points that will share the importance of time off for both employers and employees.
What is stopping you to go on holiday?
We are going to cover these facts with data later in the article. What I have noticed in my career is that people seem to start and use less and less of their vacation as they progress in their careers.
What this means is that a simple junior developer may still take time off during his birthday to celebrate with friends and family, while a manager or an architect will just take the strictly necessary, and just make long weekends here and there.
What is interesting to note, is that in many occurrences, this was not actually defined by a difference in benefit or a need from the company itself, but it was actually self-inflicted. What I mean by self-inflicted is that the employee is purposely missing out on holiday for two main reasons “fear of not being needed on return” or “Everything will fall apart in my absence”.
This trait is more common in North American countries, but also common in big corporate where big position requires big responsibility. Unfortunately, I am going actually to oppose both of the above reasons.
Everything will fall apart in my absence
You are a manager, you look after projects and teams, how can you ever think to leave the business for even just a week? Who will sail the boat without the captain? Well.. It will continue its course with or without you! 🙂
A long time ago, I was lucky to have a great manager, one that helped me understand fully how things worked. During one of my mentoring sessions, I was discussing the above with him and trying to express how much pressure I felt as “everything was on my shoulder”, his answer was not what I expected.
Even if I very important, and this manager really likes and supported me, his answer was:
Simone remember that everyone is important, but no one is irreplaceableA great manager in 2016
The above sentence may sound strange at first, you may even think that this sounds like a threat, but in reality, this was the best teaching of my life. What my manager meant, was not that I was not that good but that I had to change my way of working if I was really thinking I was so important to the company.
From that day on and after numerous conversation, I started to underst that it was essential to make sure that while working you not only do your best, but you also make sure to do it in a way where you are not going to be indispensable. I have seen (and read) many cases in which a single individual would run a business and or held a position so strong that could stop a full operation by just taking a single day off.
To be able to take a vacation, you should make sure that your duties and responsibility are defined in a way in which they are “lead” by you, but not “need you”. To better understand this, you should ask yourself the following, are you able to offset all your duties and responsibility to any of your peers tomorrow, or is there anything that “they won’t know what to do”?. If you are “the only one to have production access”, the only one that “speaks with a client” or the only one that “merges PR”, you are doing things wrong, or more importantly, you are defining a position that is hard to let go (and will lead to burnout).
Fear of not being needed on return
In the previous section, we talked about you need to stay and work because of specific duties or responsibilities that do not allow you to let go, but in this section, we are actually going to see this problem from another angle, the one in which employees purposely work in a way to make them indispensable, or jump vacation for fear of losing their job.
During one of my projects, when my team members were told that I was going on vacation for a full month, I was asked “If the company can do a full month without you, are you not scared that they may not need you at all (and fire you)”. Even if I just had this specific question once, I have been in similar conversations multiple times.
The thinking behind this thought is not that wrong, why would a company have to pay you big $$ when your team can actually do everything you do when you are away?
The answer to this will actually surprise you. In fact, being able to set up a project, or a team that is able to self-sustain itself for a limited or unlimited amount of time should make you extremely proud and not scared.
If a team is able to sustain itself, it is not luck, but it is probably the result of your hard work in creating a good team that works together toward the same goals, a team that can self-sustain itself and in the long run, a team that will grow to achieve great results! Another very important side effect of creating such a team, is the possibility, on your return, to be able to offset some of your responsibility and be able to get some more. Doing this will actually result in career progression and I can personally guarantee this as it has been my tactic for over 10 years now. It not only helps you but also helps your own team to take more responsibility and progress!
Another way to answer the above “fear of being laid off” discussion is. In fact, if you are an employer that has an employee that works hard and fulfils his duties well, what would ever be the reason to ever affect this relationship just because he/her decision to take some well-deserved time off?
Finding a good employee is very hard and costly in today’s competitive tech industry, and there is no way an employer would let it go or affect the relationship just for some time off.
In the first part of this article, we have spoken about the need for vacation and the changes that you may need to undertake to be able to take some time off. In this section, we are actually going to talk about the actual vacation time, to see how it should be used, and in what way can it help your career.
Let’s assume have finally decided to take time off.. now what?
I have some small rules that I personally follow, these rules are set and enforced by my Wife that makes sure I follow them during all our vacations! 🙂
Inform your team and your managers that you are going on vacation and that this actually means that you are really going to be offline. You should not say something like “I am going to work a few hours”, “you can reach out when I am out” or “I will check my emails when offline”.
Time off (as you have seen above) is necessary for your brain, your career and your wallet, so you should make sure to do not to do any work for your employer while on vacation. There are small exceptions to this rule (at least for me), where I would check my email once a week if on a long vacation. This is not requested by my employer, but something that I do, to alleviate the work needed on my return to catch up.
Try to switch off
I absolutely love coding and like many other developers, I find it very hard to switch off, but this is really a must-do. To push against my urge to of developing, I follow this small rule:
- On a short holiday, I do not bring the laptop with me
- I plan a holiday where the Internet is very limited, or very expensive
- I make sure to take a full week off-screen on a long vacation
- I plan activities that require my body and bring me away from the screen
Our brain needs to rest a little and spending hours and hours of our vacation in front of a computer is really not what our great matter needs to be able to relax. I love doing DIY projects (in case of home vacation) or organising days out on the beach or camping to keep me busy.
Make screen time worth it
As I said above, I try to be away from the monitor or the computer, but this does not mean that I never actually do anything with my laptop while on time off. In those small cases in which I want to spend some time in front of a screen, I also have some small rules to follow.
The first and most important rule is to never work on anything that is work-related. Then I would say that it is important to try and invest in yourself. Being a father makes my free time during a normal week very limited. The lack of time is compensated during holidays in which I try to read articles, listen to podcasts and try new technologies that are needed for my career progress.
It is very common for side projects to start during vacation time, and this is perfectly normal, as these are the main form of personal growth.
What the research says
There is absolutely no reason for you actually to believe me, so I am going to start this post by sharing some research studies on vacation and time off.
The site www.shrm.org stats on vacation are:
Research consistently shows the health benefits of taking vacation time, like improved productivity, lower stress and better mental health.https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/workers-taking-more-vacation-.aspx
While hbr.org inform us that:
… a staggering number of studies have demonstrated that our work performance plummets when we work prolonged periods without a break. We know that overworked employees are prone to mood swings, impulsive decision-making, and poor concentration.https://hbr.org/2015/06/dear-boss-your-team-wants-you-to-go-on-vacation
Vacation is not just needed to define your tan line, or improve your sky skills, but it is actually needed for your personal development. I have personally always worked ahead of time to make sure that I have a good set of vacations, spread across the year (around one vacation every 2 months). I personally think that our Brain is like any other muscle of our body, and it needs some rest (not just weekend, but proper rest).
While reading the above sentence you are probably telling yourself…
Oh well, Simone, is easy for you to talk about vacation and time off because you can afford it…
The above sentence unfortunately is just not correct, not only because I have enjoyed my vacation since the beginning of my career, but also because vacation has actually been the main reason for my career progress and success, therefore Vacation has acted more like a long term investment that an immediate loss. This is also defined in the following article where it is said that:
People who took fewer than 10 of their vacation days per year had a 34.6% likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus in a three-year period of time. People who took more than 10 of their vacation days had a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus.https://hbr.org/2016/07/the-data-driven-case-for-vacation
Time off is extremely important, as we have seen above, taking some days away from your day-to-day responsibility is essential. Deciding to take less time off or limited vacation is actually not a good sign and it is counter-productive, as it will result in burnout, the decision to change your job and slow career progress.
While talking about vacation time, we have just focused on the benefit of the actual employee, but there is an indirect benefit for the employer too. Letting employees go on holiday, will actually result not only in relaxed employees but also support their actual technical growth and result in better performance for the company as a whole.
NOTE: Everything I have covered in this article, expect an employer that wants his team to grow and now one that is just employing it! If you work in a company that “expects” you to answer emails on the weekend, work overtime and be available during holidays, you should find a new position immediately 🙂
I’m terrible at using all my annual leave.