Make sure your employees take that vacation. And disconnect.
Technology has been evolving at breakneck speed for the past twenty years. We live in a hyper-connected world, and all we need is a device and a link to the internet to be connected to our digital ecosystem. We can connect to work, friends or family wherever we may be in the world. While this might seem like a blessing, several studies point to the dangers of this hyper-connectivity; linking excessive cell phone use to depression and anxiety. Our cell phones are increasingly taking the place of our favourite blankie from our childhoods, and have become our preferred source of security and gratification.
When it comes to work, seamless connections mean there is nowhere to hide. Everyone, from managers to peers and customers, has come to expect timely responses. Apps like Whatsapp make this expectation even more instant. Work always looms large, and we are in an endless loop to get more done.
Nothing triggers stress and anxiety faster than working long periods without a proper break. There is increasing scientific evidence to support how the brain fights back when you push yourself through too many days of work without a break. Even the most straightforward task becomes sheer drudgery to get through. Your brain, just like your body, needs long breaks occasionally.
Even a short time away from work makes a difference. We’re more likely to come into work after a relaxing weekend recharged and ready to tackle whatever the week has in store. But weekends alone aren’t enough. Especially since many of us at Fabtech spend weekends catering to clients in different time zones or catching up with whatever backlog we weren’t able to get through during the week.
Enter vacation time.
In the old days before the internet and cell phones, vacations helped you switch off entirely. You could go off with your family on a two week holiday, uncontactable until you walked back into the office. Given how really ‘wide’ the world wide web is today, you’re always a text or email away.
A disconnected break away from the office can do wonders. While this may seem like a ridiculous notion, several studies prove otherwise. Taking vacations, especially to different environments, has definitive positive benefits for your brain. They help to relax, recharge and refocus. With our ‘stretch leave’ policy, we already see the benefits.
And these benefits are not just limited to employee health and wellbeing. We have come to realise that our Life Engineers are far more productive when they take periodic breaks. However, we also know these benefits dissipate quickly and ideally should be replenished periodically. It doesn’t benefit anyone, however, if the break is punctuated by emails from work, conference calls with clients or proposals that need reviewing.
Most companies allow 2 weeks of vacation time each year. While research suggests this is nowhere close to enough, many of us don’t even use up all of it. More often than not, at Fabtech our people would defer or not use vacation days because of the hectic nature of our business. Or because their absence would lead to more work for others or work piling up when they returned.
We realised that if we wanted clear benefits to accrue, we would have to provide clear guidelines for developing a vacation friendly culture in the office.
For one thing, we have a clear vacation policy that encourages time off and without the threat of overt or covert penalty. We decided on a minimum number of days away from the office and put clear guidelines in place on the use of laptops and smartphones during this time.
It is a definitive truth that the culture of the organisations is defined by the behaviours of its leaders. Leaders need to be the example and take time off themselves. If the boss never takes a vacation, then the employees are likely to also follow in their footsteps. So we evolved our HR policy and took the lead to encourage and even mandate where necessary, that all our people take a vacation. Starting with our Managing Director, we’re living this change.
Vacations are excellent even for organisational productivity.
1. They help avoid burn out and increase employee productivity. Employees come back replenished, bursting with ideas and raring to go.
It was, altogether, a different experience. Very refreshing. It took me a couple of days to disconnect. One morning I woke up with fewer thoughts of pending work and more space for my family and friends. I was at a family function, and the stretch leave helped me give all my attention and focus to my family responsibilities. More importantly, my family was thrilled having my attention focused on them, and their smiling faces are a testament to their happiness.
2. They are a great way to develop leaders. When leaders or managers go off on holiday, they can use it as an opportunity to build leadership competencies within their teams. Empowering a team member to make decisions independently is also an expression of trust and hones leadership chops.
3. Potential pressure points can be identified before they escalate into a crisis. Vacations do wonders for the overall mental and physical well being of the employee.
I enjoyed for the first time in my career tension free long leave. I was able to spend uninterrupted time with my family. I came back to work fresh and focused. My stress levels are definitely reduced, and my interactions with my team are more positive.
4. By encouraging vacations, you reduce dependence on any one individual, promote team and cross-functional collaboration.
My own experience was a feeling of catharsis. Getting detached and spending time with family and friends during this period was a different experience. I wouldn’t say it was easy. I felt separation pangs and did check my phone and emails. Also responded to some of them, but as days passed, I learnt to go easy. I briefed my team that they should reach out to me only in case of something earth-shattering, and they did a swell job holding down the fort. I came back relaxed and raring to go. The leisure time well spent also reflected on my face, and I came back looking forward to work.
So encourage your employees to pack their bags and go on holiday. It’s the best thing you can do for them and your company.
How have you structured your vacation policy? Tell us in the comments.
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