Unlimited Vacation? Give Me A Break!

Posted on: Thursday, November 13th, 2014
Posted in: HR FYI, Blog | Leave a comment

DSC_0371The NYT recently published a story about companies offering “unlimited time off.” Publicity mogul Richard Branson had announced that his UK and US companies would adopt such a practice. As usual, the media went gaga. And then the HR pundits weighed in. Now it’s my turn.

Take your time…when you’re “100% sure”

Such implausible policies usually come with not-so-fine print. In this case, according to Mr. Branson’s blog, employees should feel free to embrace the policy when they:

“feel a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business—or, for that matter, their careers!”

Sounds like a typical Boss Man. I remember taking my first “real” job out of college at a small ad agency. When I asked the owner about his sick-day policy, he said, “Sick days? We don’t need that. When you’re sick, you’re sick.” The policy never was clear to me, though I remember colleagues frequently working while ill. Ish!

Mr. Branson: Is anyone every 100% sure of anything? “Their team?” “Every project?” “The business?” “Their careers?” If perfection were the goal, we’d never stop working. And still never reach 100%. Mr. Branson: Your policy is, at best, a fuzzy discourtesy to the priceless professionals who’ve made you a billionaire.

Some vacation policy tips we can LIVE with

Having hung around countless hard-working (and sometimes burned-out) pros for years, here are some ideas I’ve gathered that seems to work for all parties…

  • 2-4 weeks of paid vacation. Yes, it should be more. But this is ‘Merrka. But if you start young and the company gives you 4 weeks in 5-10 years: Sweet.
  • Use it or lose it vacation time. No, you can’t work your harried ass off and hoard those days as an exit strategy (or whatever). You MUST take time off. Or you lose the ability to keep adding more. You’ll be a better employee (and person).
  • Sabbaticals. Since this site is dedicated to that proposition, how about something so simple as one month off every five years, or three months off every seven years.
  • Paid leave for family matters. That includes dads, who often suffer a reverse-discrimination (that nobody talks about). There are laws supporting this now, yet many folks and employers don’t go there. Life is short. Family comes first.
  • Sick leave or PTO. “When you’re sick, you’re sick,” and you need to get better—and not sicken the staffers that surround you. PTO is for when you just need a day off. Mental health? Personal problem? Dog ate your laptop? Deal with it. No questions asked.
  • 40-hour work weeks. Let’s work hard and smart and then focus on The Big Picture and wellbeing. Anyway, ever check Facebook? Most folks are posting and commenting from work. No wonder they’re working long hours!

What do you think of Branson’s policy?  What’s yours?

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Mid-lifers Crave Work-Life Balance

Posted on: Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
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DSC_0149USA Today (today) offers a story/survey about workers in their 40s and 50s. And—guess what!—what they want most in their careers is better work-life balance and less stress. The only thing regarded as more important is—guess what!—money.

Survey sez:

Among the changes that midlife adults want to make in the next five to 10 years:

  • 82% want to give back more;
  • 80% want to pursue one or more of their passions;
  • 75% want to make their lives more meaningful;
  • 74% want to travel more;
  • 53% want to pursue a new hobby;
  • 48% want to make a change to their personal life;
  • 46% want to make a change to their professional life.
  • One piece of cool news: 91% are very or somewhat satisfied with their lives.

There’s discussion of changing careers, meaning, purpose, giving back, “a desire to do something different,” and more. We get quotes from HR mavens, career coaches and authors, and the folks behind Life Reimagined—a recent AARP offshoot endeavoring to move beyond the old and retired stigma. Good idea.

Funny thing is, though, there’s not one word career breaks. Or what this site dubs Temporary Retirement. Not even vacation gets a mention.

Ever notice how WORK-life balance seems to all about work? I mean, take yourself for a week (or a year) to the lake, to the mountains, to that faraway destination of your dreams: That’s when you realize there’s so much more to life than work!

Our Career Break Movement isn’t dead. It’s just gone to the bathroom. Keep the faith…

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Give the Boss a Break!

Posted on: Sunday, August 4th, 2013
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DSC_0902Financial Times recently posted a story extolling the virtues of extended time off, paid sabbaticals, completely unplugging, and taking strategic distance from your work to help you get better focus and perspective. The article offers many role models who are richer (in all ways) because of their commitment to balance.

Much credit goes to the founder of the Strategic Coach program, Dan Sullivan, who helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses and leverage the benefits of free time—while taking off 155 days each year himself. As he sagely states,

Taking time off refreshes the brain but it also simplifies your brain.”

It’s a great read, so go there! Meantime, here are a few quotes that stack up like persuasive testimonials from entrepreneurs who have learned to accomplish more by working less…

  • “The fewer days I work, the greater my measurable economic results.”
  • “The person should completely disconnect during the sabbatical…No checking email. No calls. Total sabbatical.”
  • The sabbatical “was great for me, and great for the company to run without me for six weeks.”
  • “I delegated more and I told the people in the office that if I called on a free day they were to hang up the phone on me.”
  • “I now have a fairly full life. I do a lot of community work, I travel and I have a great family life. I wouldn’t have that if I hadn’t found the ability to take free days.”

There’s much more to say and consider from this article. But alas, this writer is on vacation, and is about to exceed the 55-minute-per-day limit on screen time. So why not join me? Peruse the story, put your screen to sleep, and go outside and refresh your viewpoint and outlook!

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Survey Sez: “Staycations” are Out!

Posted on: Monday, July 1st, 2013
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DSC_0260Earlier this week I visited an earth angel who was part of the village who helped raise my children when they were young, and I asked her how her recent one-week vacation was.

Oh, fine, fine,” she replied, “It became a staycation so I finally got both bathrooms painted; I had some fun but it was mostly hard work!”

Indeed. If we all had enough time off, wouldn’t it be great to take summer vakay, a winter getaway, and still have PTO left to tend to ill kinfolk and home improvement?

But the fact is: Most don’t. So the sacred one week off—even per year—has become evermore elusive. Short and close is in. Staycations tried a paradigm-shifting run.

But are opinions shifting?

I suspected as much when a recent factoid arrived like a fresh breeze: 57% of Americans “agree that ‘staycations’ are a thing of the past, with nearly half also agreeing that a vacation isn’t a vacation unless you pack up and leave town.” (Source: Kelton Research).

In other words, Let’s Go!

Those 7 (or so) daze are the ones you’ll cherish, right? So why fight to get your one week of summer bliss? The reasons are endless, but some favorites include…

  • Your kids will unplug, run, frolic and fish, and thank you very much (for years to come).
  • You’ll catch up on sleep, if not emails (if you must).
  • In many places, summer shines as the best, blessed season, with free vitamin D from above.
  • You’ll take time to cook creative meals—or get happily lazy and go out.
  • Strangers and old faces will appear who tell fascinating stories, and are also just delighted to be there, now, with you.
  • Getting there is half the fun: Fill the road trip with songs, stops, snacks, pics, and spontaneity.
  • Take time to study (worship?) the clouds, waves, breeze, rocks, birds, and bees.
  • Re-connect with ever-green traditions like bonfires, hikes, rock-skipping, and floating—doesn’t really matter what you’re sitting in or on.
  • Try something new that your environs offer. Sailing? Deep-sea fishing? Wakeboarding? Arts & crafts? Picking ripe berries and cooking wild mushrooms?

When the year is over and not much stands out (other that it was REALLY BUSY), you’ll thank yourselves for skipping that lame, more-of-same staycation. Rather, seek some real time to BreakAway to something so superior, like Lake Superior (as seen in this picture), where my SUV will soon be headed.

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Vacation Daze: Buy or Sell?

Posted on: Monday, December 31st, 2012
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Over lunch recently, a work colleague who’s a longtime executive at a large ad agency described her Catch-22 predicament: She has about 40 days of unused vacation saved up. BUT, due to excessive vakay stockpiling, the company has set a 1-31-13 “use it or lose it” date. My friend is too busy to take that time. So she’ll lose enough paid time off to fulfill a dang decent PAID BreakAway of 8 weeks. Ouch!

Companies buying and selling free time

Another, perhaps more employer-friendly, option seems to be gaining popularity in corporate America. Some firms let people buy additional time off, or sell back unused time for extra pay, or both. A 2010 survey found that less that only 14% of employers do so, but doesn’t that seem like a win-win?

The kerfuffle continues…

Despite lofty intentions, many hard workers just can’t manage meaningful vacations. So they burn out and get grumpy, right? Families and resorts suffer, right? The company appears stinchy-Grinchy, right? Which all leads to a pile of questions that (we hope) both employers AND employees will ponder more routinely…

  • Are employers working so hard out of fear—of losing their jobs?
  • Is there an epidemic of sick corporate cultures that expect everyone to work long hours with few days off?
  • Is someone getting rich off of all this abusive, curmudgeonly behavior?
  • Why are employers such wimps when it comes to fighting for the right to life with liberty and the pursuit of happiness; is that not America’s #1 alleged promise?
  • Why can’t companies realize that improved morale, well-being, and balance will lead to happier employees—and most likely, to a better bottom line?

We can do no better than to consider the advice of a very wise, successful man named Elmer Anderson (philanthropist, poet, governor of Minnesota, and founder of H.B. Fuller Company). Elmer got rich—and enriched many others—by asserting that: First, take good care of your customers. Second, take good care of your employees. And third—if you do both of those things well—the profits will take good care of themselves.


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“Presenteeism” Spreading Through the Workplace

Posted on: Monday, November 26th, 2012
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The BreakAway gospel preaches that we should take temporary retirement throughout our working years. But the career-break culture goes beyond that—and includes good-times time-management tricks like using all your vacation days, committing to meaningful hobbies, and skipping work altogether (especially when ill).

Stay home, sickos!”

Local journalist Jeff Strickler recently took on the “presenteeism” problem, and found ample evidence that sick employees are heading to work in droves. One reason for it is the increased use of paid time off (PTO), which means that if you use your days off for illness, you’ll have fewer left for vacation. But other explanations include…

  • Job security. “I’m a trooper, right?”
  • Pressure from management. “You look fine to me!”
  • Over-dedication. “I’m so awesome and important!”
  • The recession. “I must appear indispensable!”
  • Missing work due to sick kids. “I don’t have time to be sick.”
  • Denial. “No! I’m fine! Really!” <Cough, snort, hack…>

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, empoyees working at “diminished capacity” cost businesses around $250 billion a year. They’re also more likely to get injured, make mistakes, and, of course, make their co-workers sick.

When it’s your time for some unfettered freedom, fly away! But when it’s your time to be sick, stay home! You’ll feel much better for it.

We all will.

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Unlimited Vakay Pays!

Posted on: Thursday, January 19th, 2012
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Economic times are tough.  So if an employer offered unlimited vacation time, don’t you think the shop would run on empty?  Heck, no:  Few Americans use the modest vacation time they already receive.  So why assume abuse?  One Joe Reynolds of Red Frog Events has turned the tide on vacation policy (as part of the “World’s Best Benefits Package”), and his company is going swimmingly.

  • USA:  Land of the Fried, Home of the Slaves

Survey sez:  Only 38% of Americans take all their vacation time.  The average worker takes only 14 days, and leaves 4 on the table.  That equals $67 billion in “profit” for the employers.  And 72% of the vacationers check in at least occasionally.

You can say what you want about France.  But they do know how to party; the average Frenchie takes 35 of their alloted 37 days.  Vive la France!

  • Red Frog Grows by Leaps and Bounds

Mr. Reynolds, as the story goes, grew his $45 million event company from a $5,000 investment—while prioritizing worker performance and loyalty.  His workers can run away all they want or need to.  And instead of exploitating his kindness, his people are

unflinchingly focused and devoted to our mission.”

He’s getting attention, of course, including the Chicago Tribune’s Best Workplace award.  Best of all for this boss man:  The vacation policy has such recruiting power that for every opening, he gets 750 applicants.

Mr. Reynolds claims to work hard—100 hours per week.  But when he wrote his recent story for, he just happened to to be on vacation.  On an island:

Watching surfers and sipping a delicious Hawaiian brew.”

Like we said:  He’s turned the tide on vacation and things are going swimmingly.  Maybe the only vacation abuse happening these days is UNDER-use.

So take Joe’s advice:  Take your vacations!  You’ll do better work.

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Young Women Burning Bright—and Out

Posted on: Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011
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It’s a woman’s world these days.  They’ve won the majority in college (if not Congress), and now hold 53% of the entry-level jobs in corporate America.  Good for them.  And good for men—who’ve ruled the roost long enough, yet have hardly pushed for a “liberation” from restrictive role-playing.

But, according to Larissa Faw, a Forbes contributor who “writes about workplace trends impacting Milennial women,” young women are paying a hefty price for their success.  They’re stressed out.  Exhausted.  And questioning what it’s all about.  In short—and a host of studies backs this up—they’re largely unhappy.

  • A story that sparks responses

Soon after the original article appeared, thousands of women in question lit up the internets with their rants and retorts; here are a choice few.  Cue up Peggy Lee’s depressing song, “Is That All There Is?”

Maybe you “Millennial Women” never did learn how to make your bed after you slept in it….”

When my male friends get home at the end of the day, they have left their work at the office. For my female friends (and myself included) we have trouble detaching from what is going on in the office even when we are not there. The stress of work often becomes all consuming.”

We want to be good workers, good daughters, girlfriends, volunteers, wives, granddaughters, friends, and be “good girls.” This is too much stress for any person to handle, and many of us are turning to anti-depressants, alcohol and shopping to forget our pain.”

We now have the ability to live many lives in our one, and maybe that causes some burnout here and there.”

Men have a better support structure. Women tend to take competition personally and oftentimes hold a grudge or seek revenge, whereas men can shrug off a competitive loss and are raised to be ‘tough’ and ‘aggressive.’”

As a male, I’ve often wondered when women might officially gain the edge—as they have in many circles—but also, what’s so appealing about all that power and responsibility?  You could fill a cemetary with the men I’ve known who died early due to hard work, neglected health, and overall imbalance.

One likes to think that women know how to juggle better—and have entered the world of success and stress more voluntarily.  But research from Captivate Network finds that men are more likely to take work-day breaks, go for a walk, and go out to lunch—and they are 35% more likely to take breaks “just to relax.”

  • Bring on golfing, fishing, and career breaks

Ironically, the career-break movement appeals to women at about a three-to-one rate, at least according to what little research is available.  Maybe they plan for burnout better?  Maybe they see a career as a prolonged journey?  Maybe they forgot to take up sanity breaks like golf, fishing, and man-cave dwelling along the way?

Sadly, job frustration everywhere seems be hitting new highs, with no relief in sight.  Retail workers are revolting about having to work bizarre hours on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  The Occupy Movement suggests that many folks are mad as hell.  And employees fail to use vacation days by the millions.

Yet just ask anyone who can’t find a job:  Work stress beats the hell out of bankruptcy.

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Failure to Sail: A Generation Tethered?

Posted on: Thursday, April 7th, 2011
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P101074938% are unemployed.  12% live at home with their parents.  No, we’re not talking about some faraway third world nation, but rather, 20-somethings right here in the USA.

  • So much for free-market freedom

As usual, most blame the stupid economy; it’s a lousy job market for many folks, but especially for newbies.  Others also note that doting parents and the Entitled Generation have combined to bring this on.  You can read all about it in this article–and books like “Emptying the Nest” and the forthcoming “The Accordion Family.”

It’s a shame, really.  Back in the day, only the lucky or gifted had a silver-spoon job awaiting them after graduation.  But eventually, most 20-somethings not only found a career, but had a decent chance of stockpiling some experience and cash.  That’s a great idea—before the McMansion, family, and even fatigue come along.

  • The gap year becomes the void years

But perhaps the saddest thing about this lost sense of opportunity is just that:  The lost sense of opportunity.  In Europe and elsewhere, it’s common for youth to take a Gap Year—to travel, to live abroad, to volunteer or nanny or whatnot.

That’s brilliant stuff, and almost guaranteed to cultivate one’s sense of independence and individuality.  The opposite end of the scale?  Moving back in with the parents, to the house you grew out of some years ago.

My .02 worth to these awkward youth?

Break Away!  Join the Peace Corp or a similar group.  Go teach English in Asia.  Go help the Haitians or try being a camp counselor or become a busker in Brazil.”

But it’s not so easy, no doubt.  We can only hope that the careers arrive for the frustrated millions, so that one day a career break might be possible, too.

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Break Away from Work—Briefly!

Posted on: Tuesday, March 1st, 2011
Posted in: HR FYI, Blog | 2 comments

DSC_0124During the work day, how often do we nag ourselves,

Stop drifting!  Focus!  Finish!”

Plenty, probably, since distractions never cease—whether from digitalia, peers, phones, or cravings.  Well, relax.  A recent academic paper states that little breaks actually help—not hinder—productivity.

  • Attention ain’t endless

A University of Illinois professor’s studies found that, among other things, students’ attention fades at 20 minutes.  But what about students who received diversions?  Their focus lasted longer.  As Professor Alejandro Lleras, who conducted the research, puts it,

It’s important to create an environment where it’s OK to take small breaks.”

This might be good news—since this teacher finds that students are more distracted than ever.  As one fellow instructor recently told me, “ALL kids have A.D.D. these days.”  Seems like it sometimes.  Yet maybe with frequent pauses, we can all get more done than when we duct-tape ourselves to our desk.

  • Get off your butt?

Instead of cruising from one screen stimulus to another, though, why not get off your butt?  Why not go for a short walk?  Why not water the plants, file the pile, eat a fun lunch, or shovel some snow?

Which reminds me…There’s still white stuff to push around here.  And this screen is draining my energy.

Time for a break!  YEE-ha!

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