If you could plug yourself into an electronic charger that reduces stress in a couple of minutes and provides you with energy, would you do it? Of course you would. And while we're at it, wouldn't it be grand to have a masseuse on staff for 15 minutes a day? Since most of us are mere mortals and don't plug into the wall, what can we do to recharge? How about a walk around the block? That's right, walk around the block or get out of your chair and do a couple of stretches. According to researchers, when you take a break, even if you just go around the block, you can refresh, retain information better, and actually be more fruitful.
We've all heard this adage, and volumes have been written about work-life balance. Just for the record, I don't believe in work-life balance. Family, work, play, and alone time with partners are all parts of life. We all know people who think they are heroes for not taking a day off. They brag about working all hours of the day and night, but let's not talk about the workaholic right now. If your goal in life is to work harder than everyone else, I say go for it! However, according to the experts, people who take time to relax and take vacations have lower stress, less risk of heart disease, enjoy personal relationships, and tend to be leaders. Many of my successful clients, colleagues, and friends take time off, whether it's a personal day, vacation, or simply a walk around the block.
Robert Kriegel, author of "How to Succeed in Business without Working So Damn Hard," says workers get many of their best ideas away from the job. Without the pressure to respond to each crisis that arises, workers have the opportunity to consider innovative approaches.
"Vacation should be really defined as a time when we can really turn off those tech work savers and just relax and have fun," says Robert R. Butterworth, a Los Angeles psychologist with International Trauma Associates. People who are in creative fields in particular need the chance refresh. "If you have a job that's very creative and you don't take time off you hit a wall and you need a change. The break will allow you to refresh your brain cells," explains Butterworth.
Recently, while having lunch with Joanne Zaiac, President of DigitasLBi's New York and Atlanta offices, I asked her about vacations. I wanted to know if taking a vacation had a positive effect. "When I come back from vacation," she said with a chuckle, "I feel more patient and more optimistic about situations. Often I come back to work with a refreshed perspective."
I asked, "As a leader at DigitasLBi, have you ever suggested to a colleague that she/he take some time off?" "Yes," she replied. "I've told people to take a mental health day and/or vacation. Most of the time the person comes back refreshed and appreciates that you've cared about him/her as a human being." Zaiac also touched on the people who don't take time off: "When I see people not taking time off, I don't necessarily think they are a good role models. They are not more effective and many times that are disruptive to our culture." DigitasLBi prides itself on its corporate culture, and in 2014 the agency has already racked up awards celebrating it as a top company to work for.
However, many companies are not communicating to their employees the benefits, both personally and economically, of time off. According to the 2009 International Vacation Deprivation Study, commissioned by Expedia, more than 30 percent of Americans did not use all their vacation days. It's not only the workaholics that don't take vacations. According to a CNN report, one of the major reasons Americans leave vacation days unused is the fear of losing their jobs.
I hear many people say that they are "paying the price" for taking a vacation. And unfortunately, this is all too often true. Zaiac confirms this sentiment: "Before you go away you're stressed to get everything done and then when you come back you're stressed to get everything done," but according to Zaiac, "Vacations are needed and are definitely worth it."
Just taking a break in routine will give your body and soul time to replenish, according to Karen Matthews of Mind Body Center at the University of Pittsburgh. The center surveyed 1,399 participants recruited for studies on cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and other conditions, and the study showed that leisure activities, including taking vacations, contributed to higher positive emotional levels and less depression among the participants. Other benefits include lower blood pressure and smaller waistlines.
Even if you can't afford to go on vacation, staycations can be rejuvenating and worth every minute on the couch, in the garden, playing with the kids, and hanging with your significant other and/or friends. My friend and client Aaron just came back from a staycation, and I swear he was smiling on the phone days after his return. I just spoke with my "tech guy" James, and he sounded refreshed after spending a couple of days on the beach.
According to some experts, you should "cut the cord" instead of constantly checking email after you leave for vacation. However, some executives (and I get it) need to check once per day even if it's just getting rid of junk mail and skimming emails for any emergencies. And while we shouldn't let work interrupt our vacations, we are only human, and this is life balance in the digital age.
So enjoy your walk around the block, your mental health day, your European vacation, or your staycation in the backyard, but please take time off.
Erika Weinstein is CEO and founder of eTeam Executive Search.
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