A question for ya: How do you find time for vacations?

A question for yaIn my last Monday tip, I suggested asking a co-worker about their best vacation ever as a way of starting a fun, positive conversation.

But this may not always uncover happy memories. Lynn wrote a comment saying:

I’m 34, and haven’t had a real vacation since my childhood vacations with my parents.

The only way I manage to take an entire week off at a time (I work in IT) is when I’m able to schedule a week or two of “unemployment” between jobs, and in those periods, spending money on a trip is not wise.

I’m tied to my email/pager even on weekends and holidays and on the scattered “vacation” days I can take. Most Americans only get 2-3 weeks of combined sick and vacation time in any case, and professionals are expected to read email and be available, even on their days “off”.

I wonder how many people are able to have a real vacation these days!

I also wonder how many people are in similar straits – too busy to take vacations, even if they really need one.

So let me ask you: How do you do it? How do you manage to take a real, undisturbed vacation where you don’t spend much of your time answering work emails, carrying the company’s cell phone or just plain worrying about work?

I think this is a vital skill in today’s work environment so if you have a good idea, write a comment, I’d really like to know how you do it!


16 thoughts on “A question for ya: How do you find time for vacations?”

  1. This is a really good question. I very seldom go on holidays, sometimes going for 2 or more years without a good break. (Christmas at the Aunt’s aside)
    I always feel very stressed at the idea of taking a holiday, start worrying about how much it will cost and how when I take the break it won’t do me any good, because I’ll just be stressed out by trying to organise it.
    When I do manage it, I always make sure I take a full month off or else I don’t feel it’s worth it.
    The most helpful tip I can think of is – Get in there before everyone else. So often is the case that when you finally decide to take a holiday, someone else has already selected to take that time off from the company. I also will always go for holidays that don’t take a lot of planning, preffering to go for relaxation rather than planning a site-seeing tour.


  2. Generally my rule would be the phone gets turned off. If I’m that indespensable I can’t get fired for it, if not then I don’t need to be contactable all the time.

    I never cease to be amazed by the number of people who can’t find the off button.

  3. I just wanted to say that I find that letter extremely depressing. There are more things wrong there than just not having time to take a vacation. And the idea of only getting 2 weeks vacation and sick leave? I can tell just from that that the writer is in the USA, no need for further details! Most Europeans would never take a job that had those demands.

    Regarding the writers specific problem, I would suggest saving for a vacation, and taking it between jobs – if you have the money, why worry? Negotiate harder – take a job and say you’ll start in 2 weeks, or even a week to give yourself a break. If it’s possible, train others to do your job in your absence. Delegate. Arrange a swap with a coworker (my mum does this, she runs her own law office, just her and no other staff at all, and she take 3 consecutive weeks off every year just for a vacation – she swaps with a similar person, and the reverse when he goes away).

    I guess I’m trying to say that if one prioritises vacations it is totally possible to take them. If you’re trying to make yourself indispensible, and if that’s your priority? Well, you’re not ever going to be able to leave the office really. And if it’s not your priority to do that, and it’s pressure from your boss? Maybe it’s time to move on, and get a more enlightened boss, as Alexander has discussed previously.

    The benefits of regular vacations are wonderful by the way! I always have a recent holiday photo as my wallpaper, it reminds me that there’s much much more to life than work.

  4. I used to do this. Any vacations I went on, I’d bring the phone, get calls, check e-mail, etc. Additionally, vacations would be canceled, I’d be asked to work remotely, and so on. The wife *really* got upset though eventually. That got me to talk to my boss about the situation. It might surprise some folks, but the boss is a human too, and he’s likely been through the same situation. After that, work’s been more reasonable about letting me off. The big catch is if *I* can let myself off.

    So, step 1: Talk to your boss about needing to get away. If they can’t work with you for a single week vacation, then get out of there.
    Step 2: Get yourself to accept the vacation. Accept that the job can go on without you. Help train someone to fill in while you’re out, if need be. Accept that you’re not completely indispensable. (We also call this the “truck” theory, as in what would they do if you got hit by a truck…)
    Step 3: Take your vacation in a place where you *cannot* get calls/check e-mail, etc. Make sure that it’s more than just a couple of days. If you’re a workaholic you’ll spend several days just getting used to the idea of being off. You won’t really get to enjoy it until after you can get over that. Finally, turn off your phone while you’re away.
    Step 4: Pick the right location/place. Our place to go is on a cruise. The middle of the ocean is a great place to make sure I can’t be reached (I know some ships are putting in cell towers/internet, etc, but work doesn’t have to know. :-) ). A couple coworkers I’ve talked to plan a trip out to the middle of nowhere, where the phone doesn’t work. When you’re on vacation stop worrying about the time and how work is going. Things will manage.

  5. I don’t do it! It is done to me :)
    The clinic where I work is closed 2 weeks in the summer. Everybody takes vacation. :)

    As for ideas on how others can do it I would like to mention 2 things:
    1. The late Richard Carlson used to say “REMEMBER: When you die your in basket won’t be empty”… You will always have things to do, always.
    2. Value is respected, value can dictate the terms. Focus on providing more an more value to your employer. From a position of value you can negotiate more time off.

  6. This topic gets me angry…though not as angry as I once was, years ago, when I worked for the American sub of a Germany-based company. My European counterparts had five weeks vacation, while the hapless Americans had two.

    I like the philosophy that Peter mentions, and I applaud Justin’s steps.

    My two cents:

    Take some time off. No one will do it for you.

  7. Step One: Get a new job. When you are negoiating pay/getting questions answered after an offer, tell them it is a condition of employment that you do not get contacted and you are not required to contact anyone during your time off. Make sure you make someone say this isn’t a problem. Put this in your acceptance letter to the job (along with restating all offers, verbal and non-verbal, expressed to you in the interview process).

    Step Two: On your first or second day, express this *assertively* but not agressively to your new boss as one of your expectations of him. In the same conversation, ask what his expectations of you are.

  8. Justin’s comments are good ones. I’d add:

    1. There is never a good time to go on vacation, so just decide when it is best for you to go and then go.
    2. The objective of a vacation is restoration. If you are tethered to all the communications with the office, there is no restoration, only more stress because you are still hooked into the work but in a place where you can do little about it.
    3. Most companies would lay you off in a heartbeat if they weren’t making objectives. Why you would put up with not having time off away from all work activities seems to be an unrealistic sense of loyalty.
    4. If you are the only one who can do the work, the company will either hire someone else to support you — since you are undoubtedly working 24×7 while not on vacation — or figure out that you are indispensable, a good situation in either case.
    5. Finally, how you go on vacation and under what conditions is really your decision. If you decide to go on vacation and not work, that’s your decision and if people at work can’t respect that, then you should be having an issue with where you work. If you go on vacation and decide to work, that’s your decision too. If you decide to work on vacation, you can’t complain about working on vacation. It’s your decision. You can guess what side of that decision I’m on…

    And, yes, vacation time stateside sucks compared to Europe.

  9. I’ve never had this problem, and I don’t really understand why my friends have it, or other people for that matter. All I can say is, just do it. I don’t get what all of the hold ups are. Personally, I tell my boss, “I’m on vacation from x till y.” I don’t give him a chance to say no to me. It’s not his choice frankly, it’s my vacation time. However, I’m a reasonable person, so I plan around any big events like major go live dates for clients.

    It could be a combination of having European bosses because I’ve also always had at least 4 weeks vacation + any sick days on top of it, and I’ve always used all of my vacation every year. This has been true since graduation. I don’t put myself in a situation where others can dictate terms to me like being connected even when I’m gone. I don’t put myself in a situation where I allow others to dictate my free time to me.

    I think there are a number of challenges for people. One guy I know actually has a real problem shutting off while another guy doesn’t shut off, but can if he felt he could. Personally, I think it’s always in the control of the individual employee, but too often we go into the workforce assuming the opposite, and hence we relinquish control to those we assume have control over us. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy in my opinion.

  10. I’d like to know, from those who have issues taking vacation or shutting off after work, has your boss ever actually asked you to be connected in your off hours, or did you assume from day one or whenever that you had to be? Did someone actually say, “you’re so important that we need you connected at all times.” Or did you just take that blackberry and answer emails on your off hours establishing a precedent for yourself of being that kind of person?

  11. I know from my own experience that it is mainly down ME that I am unable to switch off. Of course my employer gets an enormous economic advantage from me and people like me.

    My boss and my boss’s boss are also of the same ilk – that kind of lends some credibility to the situation – “If I want to get his job, this is what is expected of me…”

    Personally I feel the situation is about control, or lack of it. If you are unable to manage or control your business, or the part of it for which you are responsible, (not necessarily your fault!) being out of contact might allow for this to be found out.

    Being in constant contact means you can ‘firefight’ constantly, maintaining the illusion of control.

  12. I was bound to the office for many years, and slave to blackberry even when ‘free’ .. but thankfully I have found a solution (and it is all about mind-set):

    1. I always plan my holidays out on New Years Day! I pick the dates, the location, and I book it in with work and the venue immediately. It is so refreshing to have these great events to work towards, and because it is in your mind for some time, you will find that you subconsciously create a space in the mayhem for the break!

    2. As far as the office is concerned, EVERY location to which you vacate has no phone reception (even if it does)!

    But don’t beat up on yourself if you find it hard to switch off .. it is a common ailment. Captain J. A. Hatfield put it this way – “The art of resting the mind and the power of dismissing from it all care and worry is probably one of the secrets of our great men.”

  13. Personally I find it hard to “switch off” but I do my level best to keep work at work when going on holiday. Before leaving I give people the info needed and authority needed to do their jobs. I also leave personal contact details in case of emergency and, to their credit, I’m almost never called.

    The key is to be enough time zones away that your input on a problem will always be too late. I like to be at least 8 hours away.

  14. I work for a small company (24 employees) and we are encouraged to take time off. We get 3 weeks vacation in our first year of employment and after 3 years we get 4 weeks. Plus, we get bonus flex days throughout the year to ensure that there is a long weekend for us each month.

    As for scheduling conflicts, at the beginning of each year my team and I hang a new calendar. This is where we indicate when we may be taking time off – notice I said MAY BE. This ensures that we don’t overlap. It’s also come in handy when you that you will be away for a special occasion, like a 10th wedding anniversary, your wedding, or the birth of your grandchild.

    But the key is communication. We have also implemented a buddy system so that if one person is away (even for a day) the buddy will check for any urgent e-mails and voicemails.

    Trust me, you can have a relaxing vacation and not have to worry about coming back to chaos.

  15. Hello there.

    This seems to be a typical American issue. No matter how much money you earn, you can take vacation.
    You don’t need to go far away in an exotic country. You could stay at home if you have a house or visit friends, or use appartment / house exchange programs! Spare a few extra bucks to prepare for your vacation, just like you shop for food (or less needed stuff, i’m sure)

    So now that we settled the money issue. You can find a job that gives you vacation. You can switch countries: in France we have up to 50 days of paid vacation (we get paid to go on vacation!).

    Then don’t forget, ever that vacation means resting and cooling down.
    So you need to lower your stress level by doing great activities, or being lazy, it’s up to you.

    At the same time, turn off everything related to work, both physically and mentally. You’re not at work, you’re on vacation. As it was said in another post, if your truly needed, you don’t need to worry about your job being given to someone else. And if you are disposable, well bosses are exchangeable too.

    I think people don’t fight enough in the US to really try to find the job they want, they are too worried about Short Term consequences and not long term satisfaction.

    Vacation is a requirement, to rest the soul, and the body. To get ready for some more ! See in France we don’t do shit you think? well our productivity levels are quite highers than yours. Why ? We get some rest, so we are not too tired, stressed out, etc…

    Same thing for people in spain, they rest, even during their day of work : la siesta!
    Good for productivity too.

    So don’t try to be the good son your mom didn’t have, we are talking about jobs and this is totally up to your choices, expectations, and making the market evolve in the right direction. Demand and offer are truly two component of the same result : the labor market. you are one of them, don’t forget that…. There is not only your boss deciding but you too…

    On this note, have a great vacation. By the way, I’m just about to leave for 4 weeks on vacation : 3 in the US and 1 in Mexico. I can come, make you a free willing hostage and come back to france with you in my suit cases so you can enjoy a different life, with your job on one side, but also enjoying your wife, your time on your own, your children, leisures, visiting new countries and so on.

    I work about 30 hours a week, gets 7 weeks of vacation (some get 10… here), have a nice salary to live on (EUR 60,000 = $ 85 000). See life can be easy. You don’t have to work two jobs, you just have to ask for the right salary, and conditions that you deserve.
    I would not accept to be paid more for less time off, for example, it’s an important part of my life that I want to dedicate my time to.

    Good luck!

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