The Middle Manager

Surviving & Thriving as a Leader

Work-Life Balance

How many vacation days did you use last year?  If you’re a typical employee in the USA, it’s likely you ended the year with more than half of your time unused.  Studies show that 91% of companies provide their employees with vacation time, but nearly 60% of the time more than half of the vacation allotment goes unused.  In comparison to other developed nations, the United States fares poorly when it comes to providing staff with a good work-life balance.  The US is the only developed country that does not have mandated vacation days – and in many countries not only are businesses told they must give staff time off, there are also laws that tell the employees that they are required to take a certain number of days off!

Americans lose around 175 million vacation days per year.  They’re entitled to take it, but choose not to use the benefit.

This explains why more than 65% of Americans are stressed to their limits. A study by the Families and Work Institute shows that large numbers of workers feel burned out, emotionally drained, or ‘used up’ at the end of the work day, and a Bellevue University study goes so far as to indicated that one quarter of all US workers hate their job.

Even when we do take time off, we’re not really leaving work behind.  Almost 70% of employees who took vacation time still took some time away from their vacation to check in with the office, and if they were traveling made sure they had some sort of electronic tether back to their job.

canstockphoto9002587aIt would be easy to blame the economy on these statistics, but the truth is for most Americans the state of the economy has little impact on whether they choose to take time off.  The reality is that there is an expectation by many businesses that if an employee desired to be successful in their job, or wants to advance, then they have to put in the hours.  They don’t really care about the impact this may have to level of stress felt by the employee, or the lack of time they may have to devote towards family or non-work related activities.

It really comes down to a simple choice for each individual.  What’s the most important thing in your life.  If it’s work, there’s nothing wrong with that – and if it’s not there should be no stigma attached to that, either. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Time and again over the course of my career I’ve seen good, qualified people passed over or viewed as not being good performers because they put family obligations first.

My personal feeling is that my family will always be my priority.  It was the way I was brought up, and I highly value the time I spend with them.  I have a disabled child, and feel that spending time with her is vitally important.  I would never put my job before my wife or child; fortunately, my current employer has never questioned that in 20 years on the job, and because of my tenure there I have more than adequate time available to spend time away from work when needed.  I’d be very disappointed if that ever changed, but I’d gladly leave advancement opportunities if it meant more hours, more stress, and less time for my wife and child.

The important thing is, when you’re at work your focus should be work, and what you can do to help your employer succeed. I’ve always felt that to not do this would be stealing valuable time from employer.  So I try to best leverage my time to be as successful as possible.

But I do place quite a bit of importance on time away as well.  It’s important to get away from the politics and stress of management, to be able to decompress before heading back into the office.  I’ll admit I am one of those people who makes sure I have my electronic tether available, so I can keep up with email and be able to answer pressing questions that may arise while I’m away, but I do that in the evenings once the day is close to over and we’re winding down from family activities.

I try to market the value of time away to my staff as well, and will rarely deny requested vacation time.  In fact, I’ve encouraged some of my staff in higher-stress positions to take regular time off to decompress.  It’s not something I can force anyone to do, but I believe it’s better for everyone in the long run.

So I encourage everyone reading this – work hard, but take time to relax as well!

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