Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fools: Definition Of The 40% Of People Who Don't Take Their Vacation Days

The summer is over.  How many people did not take any time off in the last three months - or the last year for that matter?  No one is indispensable.  No one absolutely, positively has to be there.  I have candidates who proudly tell me that they haven’t taken a day off in a number of months or even years.  They are fools.

I recently saw a study which says that 40% of workers don’t use their paid vacation.  The truth is that it is there for you to take and, in the long run, no one cares if you don't.  You don't get points for not taking time off. The only one who suffers is the person who doesn't take time off.  I learned, fortunately, a couple of years out of college.  During my first few years of working, I took very little vacation time.  And then after a couple of years, I took two weeks.  And know what I discovered?  It really didn’t matter in the scheme of things.

My first observation was that most projects I had been working on had not moved significantly during the time I was away.  I was able to pick up where I left off quite seamlessly. And then I discovered that no one cared that I was gone.  Nature abhors a vacuum and people will find a way to fill in.  That doesn’t mean I wasn’t missed; it just means people will rise to the occasion and get the work out.

It was a hard truth to discover that I was not indispensable. but it was an important revelation.

In fact, when people brag that they haven’t taken time off, I think that they are foolish. Study after study has been conducted that people who take time off are actually more productive than people who don’t take vacations. Anyone who thinks that they are indispensable is either a bad manager or is kidding themselves. 

The Huffington Post recently published an article about vacations, who takes them and who doesn’t.  The most revealing thing was the excuses given by people who did not take time off.  40% were afraid of the pile on their desk when they returned (ridiculous); 35% believed that no one could fill their job while they were gone (are you communicating and training properly?); 33% were worried about being able to afford the vacation (understandable, but not a reason to take time off) and 22% felt that they may be seen as replaceable (get to a shrink, please) by their manager or boss.

The one thing I discovered in business is that there is never a good time to take off.  There is always a meeting, a presentation, a report or a client.  Something always comes up which is critical and may prevent some people from taking a holiday.  It is just the way it is (by the way, this is also true about people who are unhappy in their jobs but can’t find the time to interview).  Smart people swallow hard and take their planned time off.

If you are one of those people who doesn’t take their allotted vacation.  Think twice and go.  You will feel better and perform better once you return.  

Years ago, the personnel department was renamed human resources to better reflect their role in protecting and promoting every business's most valuable resource.  I would suggest that starting at the beginning of the fourth quarter of every year, HR should look at employee attendance records and start bugging people to take their allotted vacation time.  Since vacations lead to healthier, happier and more productive employees (I wrote about this previously), HR would be doing a big service to their companies and employees.


  1. Ah, remember when a vacation REALLY WAS A VACATION? You'd leave the office behind for a week or two and when you came back, asked, "What happened while I was away?"

    Change started when it became common practice to call the office every couple of days; then with the advent of cell phones, every day, till we reached the current norm: checking email every 15 minutes! It's expected.

    As expressed in one of my favorite eCards, "Leaving the office for lunch is the new vacation day."

    1. Ed: When I am away or even out of the office, I make it a point to check my emails every hour or so for really important items. The rest I respond to before dinner and some not until I return. It never interferes with my vacation, but I get your point.

    2. I'm sorry, but checking work emails every hour and spending time answering them doesn't constitute a vacation to me. If you can't unplug what's the point?

    3. Anon: Everyone needs to unplug. I make a living through email and telephone. I have learned that when I am on the beach or traveling, I look at my emails only once every few hours. YOU ARE NOT INDISPENSABLE. If you took some real time off you would be far more productive on your return. Why risk burnout?

  2. Paul … I think this is one of the most important subjects you’ve ever covered and best articles you’ve ever written. Unfortunately, too many people don’t “get it” and have missed-the-boat by the time they do (or, another way of saying, getting older and wiser.) And your closing line was the best:

    “I would suggest that starting at the beginning of the fourth quarter of every year, HR should look at employee attendance records and start bugging people to take their allotted vacation time.”

    This struck me because I remember the time, as we approached the Christmas holidays in ‘83, when I received a call from Debbie Gleason, Exec Admin for my boss and the CEO of SSC&B:LINTAS Worldwide (Ken Robbins), who simply said, “Ken would like to see you.”

    At the time I was a SVP, Management Supervisor running about $100 million of Carnation and JVC client business. Not quite 35 years old. Many said I was a “hot shot” in the agency and, believing that bullshit, I pretty much thought the world revolved around ME.

    I immediately marched up to Ken’s office, sat down, exchanged greetings, and then he dropped the bomb, which went something like this …

    “Who do you think you are?”

    Of course I said, “Whatever do you mean?”

    To which Ken said, “I see from Bill Timm (SVP of HR), that you haven’t taken vacation in almost two years and now have seven weeks of accrued vacation time. Why is that?”

    I went on to explain that my account responsibilities simply precluded my taking time off because I had so much to do. That too much agency income and staff depended on me.

    To which he said again, “Who do you think you are?” Then he took a family picture off his office shelf and showed it to me. “You see these people? That’s me with my wife and kids on a ski trip. And if I can take time off from running the entire SSC&B:LINTAS world, so can you!”

    And with a wife and two very little daughters at home myself, I realized that he was saying “Get over yourself, and don’t neglect the most important people in your life.”

    And I thank God to this day that I had a mentor and rabbi such as Ken Robbins (R.I.P.). Everyone should be so lucky. Bill Crandall

  3. Paul,

    Great post as always. Here's an idea (my current large employer implemented early this year). Eliminate vacation days for more experienced managers (Directors and above). Idea is is simple. The expectation is that the things that matter will get done. How it gets done, and what you do with your time, is up to you. Focus on results, not hours, days in office etc.

    1. I love it. What a wonderful policy. My dad used to say that executives were hired by the year and should be able to manage their own time, including holidays. This is how I manage my company and when I ran an agency, this is how I managed our employees. And my partners and I insisted that senior people each take a week a quarter; sleeping late and just hanging out without going to work can be very rejuvenating. Of course, going away is better.

  4. You and Philip Emmanuele are living is Disneyland.

  5. MasterCard has found a way to combat this issue with their new campaign. Read more:

    1. Thanks, David-Anthony. Saw the commercials for the first time this week. They are terrific.


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