The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 30, 2013

Balancing Act: Vacations that restore the worker’s soul

By Cindy Krischer Goodman
The Miami Herald (MCT)

— My husband and I differ over what constitutes a vacation these days. For my husband, getting out of town for a few days would be defined as a vacation, an important part of work-life balance. Of course, that doesn’t mean unplugging all together. He still sneaks in brief phone calls to the office, 6 a.m. emails and work-related reading.

For me, those few days away aren’t enough. In this workaholic, multitasking society, I need more than a few days to unwind - and less time in contact with “the real world.”

Of course, I realize my family is fortunate to be able to take a vacation at all. Many Americans - about 23 percent, according to a recent survey by research company Kelton commissioned by SpringHill Suites - don’t get paid time off, and some don’t have the money to get away. But the economic worries that led American workers to limit themselves to drive-by vacations for the past several summers seem to have lifted. Fortunately, this summer, the two-week vacation seemed to make a comeback, even among overachieving professionals.

Mostly, it’s because people have figured out ways to integrate work and travel to make for a better return.

Travel agents, hoteliers and rental-property owners report a trend toward longer, farther trips through the end of the year, according to TravelMarketReport.com and AAA. The trend is buoyed by more hotels offering Wi-Fi, as well as mobile devices that have the same functionality as desktop PCs. A new TeamViewer survey found about 70 percent of employed vacationers bring work-capable devices with them.

“You have to weigh the ability to disengage fully with how much pain there is in the return,“ said Michael Crom, executive vice president of Dale Carnegie Training, who had recently returned from a two-week road trip from New York to North Florida. “People are coming to the decision that they need a mental break, but they don’t want to come back to thousands of emails.“

An abundance of research has found employees who take advantage of their vacation days perform better in the short and long terms and are happier than those who squander their days. I believe it. One year, when my husband and I moved homes, we opted not to take a family vacation all year. By the time the next summer rolled around, my husband and I lacked patience for each other, our kids and our jobs, particularly during intense workweeks.

Crom says getting out of the office for an extended time has big benefits: It allows you to work on bigger-picture ideas and come back reinvigorated. “It’s one of the critical drivers of engagement.“

CareerBuilder surveyed almost 6,000 workers and discovered that 12 percent of them say they feel guilty they’re not at work when they’re on vacation. The key to a guilt-free working vacation is building work activities around your family’s or companion’s schedule - knowing when to check in and field calls and when to disconnect. If it’s before family awakes, that’s palatable. If it’s midday during a zip-line excursion, that’s a problem. It’s also important to avoid anything complex that will pull you out of vacation mode.

Cristy Leon-Rivero, chief marketing and merchandising officer with Miami-based Navarro Discount Pharmacy, discovered that working on vacation means she can take a full week off, but she and her husband team up so their three children don’t feel short-changed when their parents connect to their offices.

“I might say, ’Watch the kids for a minute; I’m going to get on a call,’ or he might do the same, but we keep our family activities time-protected.“

Even on a beach escape, Leon-Rivero says it takes at least a week to let go of stress and relax. She believes time away from the office pays off. “The best ideas happen outside the office.“

With the return of longer vacations, more companies are going toward unlimited vacation policies, convinced it leads to better productivity and engagement. Tech companies, such as Evernote and small-business loan-finder Lendio, both on the West Coast, have told their employees they won’t be tracking the amount of time they take off, just their individual results. When announcing the policy change, Brock Blake, co-founder and CEO of Lendio, said, “I trust all of you to do your job and take the time off you need.“

Others who have tried similar approaches have had positive results. Two years after instituting its vacation policy, the Web service Hubspot found “the company has been ranked as the No. 2 fastest-growing software company on the Inc. 500.“ The same goes for website GoHealthInsurance.com, which claimed a 200 percent increase in growth in the past year.

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegalgmail.com. Read her columns and blog at h http://worklifebalancingact.com/.