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Too many leaders think vacation is for other people.

That’s a problem.

If you never take an extended break (not just a day or a weekend), you’re denying yourself – and your team and organization – the well-documented benefits of rest, restoration and reflection. These include increased effectiveness, creative thinking, and productivity.

It’s easy to see why truly turning off is so hard. Our business culture celebrates leaders who are always-on. As a recent Harvard Business Review article on the benefits of breaks states, “the popular literature is rife with advice on how to maximize work time,” celebrating CEOs with intense routines, including waking up at 4 am, working nights and weekends, and strategically managing every minute of their calendars.

Whew, I need a vacation just reading that!

Many leaders I work with feel guilty about taking time away. They fear being replaced or losing control. So they keep pushing through. And even those who leave the office are not truly on vacation, working during their time off.

No offence, but you’re not that indispensable! The company won’t collapse if you take a week off. And vacation is not a sign of weakness or a luxury; it’s a necessity.

It’s also a long-term investment in your career.

There’s a high cost to skipping vacation. Burnout is rising, and engagement is headed in the other direction. Both are linked to decreased performance.

Paradoxically, strategic breaks, including vacations, for every team member, even those at the top of the org chart, help reverse the burnout/engagement trend.

Here are a few key benefits of booking some hammock time this summer.

Leading by example

As a leader, you explicitly and implicitly signal what is acceptable in your organization – your actions embody and inform your company culture. And if you never take a break, what kind of message are you sending to your team?

‘“Take a vacation”: Three words all leaders need to embrace in the workplace’, a 2022 Fast Company piece cites 2017 U.S. Travel Association research found that U.S. workers had failed to use approximately 705 million vacation days, but it’s not translating to better performance or productivity.

Vacation has clear personal and organizational upsides. The article cites a 2018 study carried out by the American Psychology Association that found the self-reported positive effects post-vacation included increased energy (66%), increased productivity (58%), increased motivation (57%), and lower stress (57%).

Unused vacation days are bad for business. As a leader, taking vacation signals that time off is essential for everyone to be their best, and it fosters the authentic work-life harmony critical for engagement, morale and a winning culture.

Increase Productivity

Rest is more than its own reward. There’s a tipping point where working more does not translate to better performance.

I know, it seems counterintuitive. How can staring at the ocean or swinging in a hammock (or a golf club) improve your work?

While it may look like you’re doing nothing, your body and your brain are repairing and restoring what all your hard work has worn down. And the benefits of taking a vacation go beyond physical well-being. Rest can sharpen your intuition and decision-making skills and improve your emotional health and mental clarity.

“The best thing for your work ethic is to have a rest ethic,” Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired magazine, said on a recent episode of The Time Ferriss Show. He endorses “goofing off, wasting time and sabbaticals” as a way to rejuvenate, telling the host that the best things he’s done in his career have come after taking time off.

“It’s almost like sleep: you just have to do it,” Kelly said.

You cannot effectively lead if you are exhausted, overworked, and overwhelmed.

Think of a garden: if you constantly plant the same ground, eventually, you’ll deplete your soil of the nutrients needed for a bumper crop. Letting the land fallow occasionally enriches it for the next growing season.

That’s your vacation, nourishing what you hope to plant and grow when you return to work.

Feeding creative thinking

When you’re away from your desk and your usual routine, your mind is free to wander, to come up with different, maybe better, ideas than when you’re muscling through your daily grind.

As the Fast Company piece states, “When we’re running fast and hard, we often resort to doing the same thing time and time again and yet expect different results.”

And isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Mental agility is the most critical leadership skill in our age of uncertainty and accelerated change. And it demands time for reflection to get perspective.

The best ideas can often come from taking a step back and unplugging. Summer is the perfect time to hit pause, step away to the beach, cottage, or a new destination, to rest and reflect.

What are your summer vacation plans? What are the benefits you’ve noticed that you bring back to the office from your holidays?

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