leading from the beach
Water splashing a person's bare feet at the edge of the ocean. freeimages.com Nas Kamui

Will you be outlived by your unused vacation days?

Hardworking, vacation-deprived people are more likely to suffer  burnout, reduced productivity, diminished creativity, failed relationships, stress, or stress-related ailments such as depression, heart disease, or stomach ulcers, according to WebMD.

And yet, statistics show that 26% of Canadians do not use all their vacation time and one million Canadians haven’t taken a vacation in over fifteen years! Assuming the research is valid — Wow!

Problems Caused by Avoiding Vacations

How about you and your employees? Are you and they taking vacation? I do take vacation each year, but I’m not very good about using up all my time. As an employee, should I be concerned? Yes, for the above reasons. As an employer, should I be concerned? Yes again, for two reasons:

  1. Financial: If an employee doesn’t use all their vacation time, the employer must set aside an accrual to cover the potential payout if the employee left before using all the vacation entitlement. I’ve made a concerted effort to work down my unused days and am making good progress. How about you?
  2. Risk Management: If your ministry can’t survive someone’s vacation, you have a major problem! The organization is too dependent on that person, and is exposed to a potentially catastrophic risk if they suddenly became unavailable due to death, illness, or resignation. Every employee, including the leader, should be readily replaceable in the short term. A permanent replacement may take longer to find, but you must design an organization which can survive the short term loss of any employee.

Benefits of Vacationing

Vacation benefits for all staff include:

  • Higher productivity and performance
  • More positive attitudes towards work
  • Increased happiness
  • Improved mental and physical health
  • Better relationships and social life
  • More creativity. Breaking out of the routine helps you see things differently. Your mind wanders differently, you have time to reflect on deeper thoughts, and you are more likely to get fresh insights.

There are additional benefits when leaders take their vacations:

  • The organization, staff, and their families all need you at the top of your game. Mission accomplishment, organizational health, and job security for the staff depend on you being at your very best. Vacations will keep your performance levels high.
  • One consultant says, “Leaders need to role model work-life balance—and not glorify working around the clock. And organizations should consider the message their PTO [paid time off] policy is sending: If you’re paying out for unused PTO, you’re effectively paying your employees not to take time off.” So you be the model for your employees. Do what you want them to do.
  • Your vacation allows your staff to step up and do something different. They get to try out new tasks and responsibilities and, at the same time, test your succession plan. So,
    • create an organizational structure that supports you taking vacations. Write an emergency succession plan for yourself and then put it into action while you are on vacation.
    • share information as freely as you can. The more your staff knows, the better decisions they can make when you’re not there. Make sure they have everything they need to fill in the gap while you are on vacation.
  • You will be a happier person, and that will be good for your staff. After all, no one likes to work for a grumpy boss!!
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Make a Vacation Happen!

We weren’t designed to work all the time, that’s why God gave us the Sabbath rest. Take a break each week, and then a more extended break each year.

Is that too hard to do? Well, I thought so once. A number of years ago I told the then CCCC board chair, Larry Nelson, that I was having trouble taking vacation. I probably expected some sympathy and a comment about how hard-working I am, but not so! He did me a great service when he replied, “John, you’ll get a vacation when you schedule a vacation!” That is so true. A vacation doesn’t just happen by accident. Make it happen!

If you think there is never a good time in the annual rhythm of your job to take a vacation, you’ll just have to bite the bullet, go ahead and book the time when it is least disruptive, and then trust your staff to stand in for you. The fact that you can do this is the payoff for hiring well, sharing information freely, and developing your staff to be the best they can be.

If you just can’t let your staff fill in for you, check what’s really going on inside you.

  • Are you insecure?
  • Do you truly believe you are the only person who can do your job?
  • Do you have some other excuse?

If you answer “yes” to any of these, then try an experiment. Let your staff practice in advance of your vacation. Test their ability to fill in for you while you are present in the office and can quickly correct a misstep. At least, as issues come up, ask them how they would handle them.

  • If they do well, then take your vacation. And, as a bonus, ask yourself how much of your work could be permanently delegated?
  • If they don’t do well, then you have an opportunity to teach them how you make your decisions. Then you can take vacation.

Either way, you’ll get to the point where you can take a vacation. The truth is, the only obstacle to you taking a vacation is you!

One Final Motivation

Mexico has an tourist campaign for workaholics – the only thing worse than not going on vacation is seeing your doppelgänger take your vacation instead. Enjoy this short video.

You can find more vacation-related resources at Project: Time Off.

Now, go away!

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An exploration of Christian ministry leadership led by CCCC's CEO John Pellowe