- Crushing It -
should I take vacation?
by fergus mellon
There are too many myths out there about taking vacation time, and by that I mean too many myths about how taking vacation can damage your career trajectory. It won't!
Sure, you don't want to be that person who is always out on vacation or seems to always be out of the office. However you do want to manage vacation to ensure your physical and mental health is in good shape. Having decent periods of downtime will help pace you for the next 40 plus years of work and also give you a regular reward for your hard work. After-all we want to enjoy the fruits of the 8:00-6:00 slog and as well as having nice possessions, experiences such as travel or even just downtime and a chance to connect with family and friends is a reward well worth enjoying and so placing real value on.
In addition to managing your wellness and being a reward for hard work, also think about vacation as part of your overall benefits package. In the same way that you would not say to your employer "please give me a 10% pay cut, please do not match my 401k/retirement contributions, please cut my healthcare benefits, oh and I don't want those stock options either", don't give back your vacation time!
Take your vacation. Take all your vacation!
The myth that you will harm your career by taking those two/three weeks out (or seven if you are in France!) is just a myth, I promise you. The only time when I have received feedback on my vacation plans was as an Early Stage Professional and my managers were slightly jealous at me taking an amazing two week trip to South Africa. They were not concerned at me being a slacker, but instead had a healthy attitude to life and knew that rewards to hard work can and should include travel and time off to re-charge. It is a behavior that all good managers should echo. Even when I had a manager who had a far less healthy attitude to life outside of the workplace, I never regretted taking time out. He may have sighed a bit when I asked for a week off during the summer, but it was only 5 business days and with me being able to check-in on email during my time out, no balls were dropped. Oh and after a week of being back my workaholic boss had forgotten that I had been out of the office. The good news was that he was far too busy to register the small things!
Do not make your manager's lack of balance an issue for you. Take the time out and then come back refreshed and be ready to jump in with two full feet. You will accelerate your career by being refreshed and ready for the fight!
A funny (ok, sad) vacation story
As an ESP I was part of a small Graduate Trainee scheme at an Investor Relations firm. On this scheme there was a fellow trainee who was always focused on competing against me and trying to show how much better he was. (As an aside he was no better than me, and I kept focused on doing everything that was asked of me, instead of being distracted by his competition "issue".) One area that he competed and thought that he won against me on was vacation days: I took all of mine and he took none of his.
When his lack of vacation taking and my full vacation taking came out guess what happened?
There was absolutely no criticism of me. Instead the Partners at the firm I worked at said loudly: "How boring. What is wrong with him? Doesn't he have any friends? How can he not take any vacation?!?"
Take your vacation, enjoy your life. You will be working for 40+ years so you need to enjoy it and keep everything in balance.
Some Vacation Caveats
Take them and manage them, but think about light periods: While you are entitled to your vacation, think about how best to combine your goals of maximizing your vacation time while also meeting the needs of your business. One way of doing this is to understand when your company's workload is light and then to plan to take vacation during those times. This means that in the US and Europe taking time off during "The Holidays" / Christmas and New Year can be a big win/win for you and your company. In addition the summers are often a lull period so look at taking the time off there. You may miss out on getting the cheapest flights and deals, but if your intention is to manage your vacation time with minimal disruption for your company then these are ideal. In addition look at bridging "Holiday" weekends by adding on a Friday or a Tuesday to weeks that have public holidays.
The one don't is taking off during peak demand for your skills or your business. I have been surprised when a high performing employee wanted to take time off in the period between Thanksgiving and December 23 when the team was working at 120% of capacity. While the employee had been put in a tough position as his family wanted to take a vacation during this time period, it momentarily caused confusion for his immediate manager: "Why does my employee want to take vacation during a time when I cannot do without him?" Avoid the peak periods of demand for your work and you should be just fine in maximizing your vacation!
Working during light periods: One flag, and it may just be a pet peeve of mine is the employee who wants to work during the very light periods (between Dec 24 and January 2). Why? There is rarely anything to be done during this period and I have witnessed employees who would come in late, turn their PC on, leave for a long lunch and then close down and leave early. This is basically a con. If you are in the office, work hard. If you prefer to work the light periods, then speak to your manager about any special projects that you could work on during these times so that you show that you are taking this seriously and contributing to your team. If the company does not need your time, then do your best to plan vacation around this.
Plan ahead: Even though you are early on in your career your manager will expect you to be an adult and part of this means planning your vacation time well. If you want to take your vacation (as you should) then identify when you should go and ask your manager for approval.
I like nothing better than an employee who stages their vacation to maximize their days out and ensure they are ready to really thrive at work. On the negative, there are those employees who do not anticipate that they need vacation and then look frazzled by late summer because they are exhausted. By late summer, unfortunately, business activity is picking back up and it is more difficult to take vacation.
The employee who did not plan ahead looks weak and a bit helpless. Instead of being proactive and smart, they show that they need an "Office Mum or Dad" to help them plan their lives. If you need an office Mum or Dad you are very likely going to be out of luck as you are now an adult and will expected to behave as a professional one in the workplace.
Instead of needing an office parent, work with your manager early on to get your vacation on the books. If you approach your manager with an ask for time off two months before you want to take it you will look like you have your act together. You will look like you have your act together because you will have your act together!
You may be asked to change your plans: One of the biggest vacation misses that I have experienced is when I was asked not to take time off to travel from the USA to the UK for my father's 60th Birthday. I had long planned to be back home for my father's landmark birthday but due to a big project I was working on I had to miss the celebration. Instead I had to be flexible and head home a month before his actual birthday.
Personally this was a huge miss and something I had never experienced before. I would have loved to celebrate with my Dad and everyone in my extended family as well as with my parents' close friends. However, when I was in the office I just sucked it up and did not complain to my manager or to my friends. It is rare that a company will not be able to accommodate your plans, but if they are not able to, just move on and do not dwell on it. Of course I noted when my father's birthday was (I am not saying I am blindly forgiving of everything!) and I noted the level of work expected of me during the time period. It turned out that it really was crucial I was in the office. It was the busiest two-week period of that year and my manager had made the right call!
For more on this topic see this column on Unlimited Vacation and How to Manage It or get the Checklist for Checking Out. Want a vacation from vaction topics? If so, head straight to the next section: Sick Days
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