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Why Vacations are Being Left Behind – and Why They Shouldn’t Be

As summer turns the corner and fall is steadily approaching, with the cooler weather comes the kick-off of many new projects and initiatives. The end of summer always brings with it an abundance of change. Here at Harbinger, we are wondering; were you able to take some vacation time for yourself this summer? Do you have plans for a vacation in the fall? 

While the switch to working from home may have reduced time spent commuting to work, it has also led to a significant increase in actual time spent working. This means that now, more than ever, employees need to take vacation time to recoup and refresh. But with Covid-19 either cancelling, postponing, or obstructing the ability to travel, perhaps people feel as though a vacation isn’t on the table for them. 

So, why do we feel that we need to have an experience in order to have some time off? 

When you think of the word vacation, there is no doubt you picture someone sitting on a beach with a drink in hand. But maybe this idea that a vacation must be an experience, or a destination is leading people to simply not take any vacation time at all or to save it until things are “normal” again, albeit we have no idea when that may be. 

A vacation means that you are taking time for yourself. While this can involve having sand in between your toes, it can also entail you visiting someone you love and really spending some time with them. It could be you finally getting around to fixing up that guest room that you can’t bear to look at as you walk by. If you’re taking the time for yourself, who says it is not a worthy vacation? 

The pandemic has undoubtedly put a wrench in many of our vacation plans. With travel restrictions, quarantine mandates, and general uncertainty, a destination vacation might have to be put on hold. But this does not mean that vacation time should not be taken. Staying in a neighbouring city and trying out a new restaurant can still be “getting away". There are no rules or guidelines to what your vacation must look like. 

The benefits of taking vacation time for employees, even in the midst of a pandemic, include achieving high performance levels, increased productivity, and increased job satisfaction. In fact, having time off from work can stimulate an employee's creativity and overall job performance. This means that vacation time for employees is not just for recreation but can actually be a crucial factor of their successful employment. 

But can we ever truly disconnect? 

As many of us have transitioned to working from home, our offices aren’t more than a few steps away from our kitchen. And when work emails are sent to our personal phones, can we ever detach ourselves? Perhaps people are not taking full advantage of their vacation time because they know that they are going to receive these emails anyways - so what is the point of trying to disconnect? 

Workplace culture in Canada and the U.S. often revolves around working long, overtime hours, with a focus on ‘getting ahead’ at work. Being the first one there in the morning and the last one out at night may feel like the only way to grab a manager's attention. Not taking vacation time might seem like a factor in ‘getting ahead’ and proving unwavering commitment to the company. But research from Virginia Tech found that the pressure to always be reachable incites feelings of anxiety for employees, leading to increased strain for both employees as well as their families. 

Our ‘always-on' work culture is not felt all over the world. Other countries are taking the steps towards a more disconnected lifestyle. In France in 2001, the court ruled that it was not obligatory for employees to bring their work home and being unreachable would not be considered misconduct. In 2012, the German company Volkswagen rerouted any emails sent to employees between 6:15 p.m. and 7 a.m. so that they would not be notified. While it is evident that the ability to disconnect is there, the onus does not only fall onto the individual employee. 

Managers have due diligence to remind their employees to take their vacation time and to address any hesitation surrounding this time off. Employers should encourage their employees to take the allotted time off and reiterate the known benefits of vacation time. Unnecessary pressure to be online at all times needs to be relieved to ensure that employees are making the most of their vacation and are recharging both physically and mentally. Adequate vacation time can ultimately lead to stronger employee morale and workplace culture.

How can a culture of trust increase vacation time taken? 

From team leaders to individuals working on independent projects, everyone feels the pressure of making decisions. Arguably even more stressful is giving up the control of these decisions. Thus, if you take a vacation - who will make these decisions? And how will they know what to decide? 

Setting an “out of office” message is redundant if you are checking your inbox regardless. If you have selected your messages to be sent to another co-worker, there needs to be trust that this co-worker has the knowledge and skills to handle any potential situation. There must be an acceptance that others also have the ability to make strong, calculated decisions, even in your absence. If there is a lack of trust within team members or within departments, employees may hesitate to take their vacation time as they do not want to take a week off from receiving communications. Alternatively, if the vacation time is taken but the employee cannot fully “disconnect” from work, they may feel burnt out and not get the physical and mental rest that they need. 

It is necessary that managers ensure that there is trust within, as well as between, departments. If employees have anxiety surrounding taking time off, the team dynamics need to be re-analyzed. Trust needs to be built and the best way for managers to build trust between coworkers is by displaying trust. When managers allow employees to make decisions and exhibit confidence in their knowledge and skills, they are setting a concrete example of trust. If there is a lack of trust, communication and coaching must be increased to get to the root of the problem.   

From all of us at Harbinger, we hope you were able to find some time for yourself during these last few weeks of summer, whether that means reading a great book or having a week up at a cottage. We are also excited for those taking your time off in these upcoming months, because we know that vacations are not only deserved, but they are necessary for the well-being and long-lasting success of individuals, teams, and organizations. 

Check out some snapshots of the Harbingers enjoying their vacations!


Teresa Cimino

Marketing & Communications Coordinator




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