What did you do for spring break? Maybe you visited a foreign country and soaked up some culture or went to the beach and soaked up some sun. I just hope you managed to unplug for the majority of it.
Despite some persistent societal messages to the contrary, including some fawning by media, there is nothing noble about being such a workaholic that you skip vacations, hardly sleep, and answer email at 3 a.m. It's bad for your personal health, and it ultimately harms your professional performance and those around you as well. If you're a business leader, it logically follows that your lack of downtime is harming your company too.
Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer gave an infamous interview wherein she talked about putting in 130-hour weeks at Google by being "strategic" about things like bathroom breaks. She went on to suggest she could predict which startups would be successful based on how many people were in the office over weekends.
Mayer got pushback for these statements and rightfully so. The extreme work-life imbalance she espouses isn't just unappealing; it's unsustainable and, more importantly, unhelpful.
And yet, there are so many workplaces where employees still feel an obligation to be at their desks for an arbitrary number of hours per week and think it'll look bad if they take time off. To reverse this trend, change needs to start at the top, with business leaders going on vacation and empowering their teams to manage without them.
Don't feed the humblebraggers
You encounter them in every industry and every size company, those executives who declare, "I haven't taken time off in X years!" Sure, founders of early-stage startups can't jet off to Bali and unplug for weeks at a time but we all need to understand what our bodies and minds need in order to stay productive, creative, and effective in our jobs.
Rather than respond to workaholics with awe, express concern and give them a primer on the importance of downtime.
At the same time, develop some empathy for the weary workhorses. For many, their entire self-image is tied to this identity; if they can't immerse themselves in work, they don't know who they are or what to do with themselves. For others, they're simply products of a work environment driven by presenteeism.
Let teams know time off is okay--and encouraged
I wish more managers would follow former Vice President Joe Biden's example and actually encourage ambitious overachievers to give themselves a break, as he did in a letter reminding his staff, "I do not expect nor do I want any of you to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work."
Like a lot of companies in the Bay Area, my company offers unlimited PTO (paid time off). When outsiders hear this, they often ask half-jokingly whether anyone bothers coming to work. In fact, plenty of people still do need that nudge of encouragement to take time off, and I attribute that to our culture and the type of person it attracts.
People join our team because they're inspired by our mission to improve lives through learning and because we invest in employee development. They aren't the type to put in the minimum effort it takes to pick up a paycheck.
In return, we expect people to be responsible professionals. We trust them to know their limits, to take appropriate breaks, and to do it without leaving coworkers in the lurch.
Build it into workplace culture
It's been exciting to see workplace wellness courses gain momentum among Udemy for Business customers. This tells me more organizations grasp the connection between employee well-being and company performance. It's much easier to manage without a star performer for a week or two than to lose them forever due to burnout.
And, to be clear, vacation isn't simply doing remote work from a sunnier climate. With Wi-Fi, email, and VPN, any vacation can feel just like a day at the office. Sometimes that's unavoidable, and it may be okay, as long as expectations and boundaries are cleared up front.
But generally speaking, this is time off the company clock and needs to be respected as such. PTO is part of the employee's compensation package so, by asking them to compromise how they use it, you're asking them to accept less for doing their jobs.
Enjoy it; you've earned it
Employees who feel respected and valued by their employers are more engaged and put in more effort. Alternately, if you run your company like a sweatshop, you'll churn through people constantly and word will spread, making it harder to attract new talent. Show your team you trust them, and they'll make it worth your while.
When you look back later in life, you probably won't regret not being at work for a few days, but you might very well regret what you missed outside of work.
As for me, I just got back from a visit to Legoland with my wife and daughters over spring break. Yes, I brought my laptop with me, and I did send some emails, but the focus of my time was on being present with my family. After all, they're a big reason I work so hard the rest of the time.