Most Americans can't help but feel like summertime is vacation time. Since we were kids in school, the idea that we need an escape during the summer months has been ingrained in us. Add to that the seasonal itch we get for sunshine and warmth after a long winter cooped up indoors--and who can blame us for wanting to get away and put our toes in the sand? After all, hard-working employees need and deserve breaks.
The problem, of course, is that work goes on year round. Business doesn't stop, nor do responsibilities dwindle, just because the calendar says June or July. That's why it's important this time of year to revisit your company's perspective on vacation and personal time off (PTO). Where do you stand on the idea of summertime holidays? Are you building a culture that permits employees to make time for rest and relaxation no matter what month it is? And how can you best balance the needs for both productivity and leisure?
Here are a few thoughts to consider:
You can't get rid of the summer mentality. Face it: Our feelings for summer are deep-rooted. Most of us grew up having summers off from school, so we cling to the idea that summer is when we should take trips with our families and friends. Trying to undo that idea is nearly impossible, especially if your employees are fresh out of school themselves or have school-aged children. For them, it's often the only practical time to travel. Accept the fact that "summer vacation" is a phrase we aren't likely to phase out any time soon.
If you provide vacation time, respect people for using it. There's a lot of debate back and forth on the merits of tracking vacation and holiday time. Companies that don't track vacation say people can always go when they need to go and not be worried about PTO. On the other hand, some employees fear they'll look like slackers if they take time off without accounting for it. However your company approaches its PTO policy, never make people feel guilty for taking the time you give them. The thing is, you want people to rest. Grinding away through the winter can seriously deplete your focus and your edge, so companies should want employees to find ways to "sharpen the ax," so to speak. For some, that will mean taking a nice trip for two weeks at a stretch during July. And that's okay. The best workplaces communicate to their employees that vacations are well-deserved respites--rewards for being productive contributors.
Not every "break" requires taking time off. It's possible to give people distance from the winter blahs just by providing regular opportunities to let off steam. At Jobvite, for example, we have "Summer Parties" every year, where employees and their families get together on a Saturday--not necessarily in summer--simply to hang out and relax. It's a time to remind ourselves that we aren't just officemates; we're husbands and wives and friends, all with lives outside of work. We also empower our managers with the autonomy (and the budget) to hold occasional team-building activities and social gatherings during the workweek. Whether they go wine tasting or play softball, I find that this kind of downtime--while not a substitute for a "real" vacation--definitely helps alleviate the buildup of pressure.
Set a good example. The most important thing a leader can do is to remind your workforce about something obvious that is not so obvious when one is immersed in the job and career - that life is not about work alone, but about family and friends and other pursuits. The best way you can do this is by taking your own vacations from time to time. Show your employees that they won't be judged as less productive simply because they need a few weeks off to recharge their batteries. Build a culture that values happiness and health above hours spent at a desk. Why? Because happy, healthy employees consistently perform better than employees who feel burnt out or don't like their jobs. No one wants to be stuck in a place where you have to be the first one to arrive and the last one to leave, or where you feel scrutinized about how you spend every minute. Demonstrate through your own actions as a leader that your company values results. And if you can perform well, you deserve a vacation.
As summer comes upon us, take a few days to reflect on how your employees feel about their vacation time. If they're not regularly taking days off, look for reasons why. Are they under too much pressure to keep going? Does your culture come across as overvaluing hours and undervaluing performance? When was the last time your employees saw you take a vacation? Remember: If you've done your job as a leader, and you've built an organized team that can fill in for each other, vacations are good for everyone--and summer's just as good a time as any.