Leading the New, New Corporate Vacation Policy

by  Jon Mertz  |  Change Management

Vacation Policy ShiftsMany of us do this. We carve out the time. We plan the family vacation. As we hit the road or jet way, our workplace disappears into the background, yet it is still right next to us in our digital devices.

The new reality is we never really, completely, wholeheartedly leave work behind. Work is attached to our hip and safely placed in our carry-on bags.

The reasons for this change are many, but it directly relates to the hyper-connectivity of our current world of activities, the streamlined nature of our organizations, and our desire not to spend many hours catching up when we return. We would rather dabble with work while we are on vacation than drown in it when we return.

For organizations, the new, new reality of vacations may need to shift our thinking on vacation policies and approaches. It may also mean a shift on how individuals get that needed break from it all, too.

4 New, New Vacation Practices and Policies

Here are four new, new vacation practices and policies for us to embrace.

P1: Moments of silence during the day.

Mindfulness is gaining traction in the business world, and an element of the practice is to take a break and be present in a moment of silence. What this means for individuals is to take a break or two during our work days. We should:

  • Close the door, sit in silence.
  • Unplug and take a 5 minute walk
  • Turn everything off during our drives to and from work

There may be other practices, but it is taking the momentary moment to catch our breath, let our thoughts breathe, and refresh our mindset.

P2: Each year, one week of training.

Although vacations are still needed, knowing there will be a mix of rest and work requires a subtle change in approach. Each year, organizations should encourage and enable individuals to take a week for training. It could be a week-long course in some topic, or it could be 2-3 shorter workshops. Whatever the mix, these training opportunities give individuals a time to renew their thinking and re-energize ways to tackle the increasing workload.

P3: After three years, completely unplug for one week.

Given that we don’t really unplug during our yearly vacations, after three years, an organization should strongly encourage, if not mandate, individuals take off and completely unplug for one week.

  • Autoreply all emails with a contact person.
  • Forward voice mail.
  • Leave your digital devices fully drained and inaccessible.

P4: After six years, completely unplug for one month.

We used to call them sabbaticals, but now they could be called “electronic cleansing retreats.” What organizations may need to realize is that a mind away is a mind revived. With time away, mindsets and attitudes adjust. Creativity engages again. Energy returns. There is a benefit to the organization. After all, organizations and teams are still powered by people more than electronics.

Change is the constant, but how have vacation policies changed to keep pace with our new world of always being connected? It is a key question leaders need to ask and evaluate.

2 Leadership Questions

Embedded in this connected vacation discussion are two leadership questions:

Q1: Are we leading to reflect the new realities by changing and adapting vacation policies?

It is a new reality. Leaders have higher expectations on the effort of the work being done along with the level of performance being delivered. Work is more intense, and we are more connected to it.

The leadership answer needs to be aligned to the changing workplace. Our vacation policies and approaches need to change to reflect and support the new realities (see suggestions outlined above). Leaders need to get in front of this change and put new policies and practices in place.

Q2: Are we taking moments to catch our breath? Are we breaking away and disconnecting from it all?

Leaders, like everyone, need a break from the constant stream of activities. Gaining a pause translates into recharged mindsets and breakthroughs in approach. We can call it “think time away from it all.”

The leadership question is centered on how we are taking-a-break as an example. It is about revitalizing our perspective and re-energizing our spirit. It is also about trust. The level of trust we have in our team can be correlated to how often we touch base with them while we are on vacation. Trusting our team means leaving our team alone while we are on vacation. It also means taking a vacation.

It is time to change. We need to adapt in order to renew our most valuable resources:  our team members and ourselves.

How would you change an organization’s vacation policy in this new world? How are you leading this shift?

About The Author

Articles By jon-mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. At Thin Difference, Jon writes and facilitates a conversation on how to empower, challenge, and guide the next generation of leaders.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Danne Hotchkiss  |  06 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Jon, the fundamental problem with your recommendations is that they are all focused on how to get even more work out of the employee. A one week vacation after 3 years? That’s a sure recipe for burnout, and starts from the position that the employee was fully rested, recharged and carefree on the day the job started. People’s lives don’t start the day they start a new job. Training is great (is the company paying for it, or mandating how the employee spends his paycheck?), it used to be considered professional development, and it was acknowledged to be done for the benefit of both parties. Your new 5 minute break used to be a 15 minute break, until it disappeared all together, and people took 2 of them in an 8-hour shift. If companies really want to get more from employees, they’ll stop expecting employees to work 12- 14 hours a day to ‘get the job done’ and instead, they’ll hire more people and mandate that time-wasting activities such as meetings and most travel be severely reduced.

Jon Mertz  |  06 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Great points, Danne. I understand how things have changed, and our vacation policies need to adapt in some ways. I am not advocating 1 week vacation after 3 years. I am advocating normal yearly vacation times and, after 3 years, take a week off with no connectivity. Unplug completely for 1 week.

I understand work is more intense and expectations higher. We need to adopt ways to meet these new challenges because we do need breaks to refresh and renew.

Thanks for your points. I hope the conversation continues, and we find ways to disconnect and re-energize in this new world.


David Hollingshead (@drhollingshead)  |  06 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Great post! It is so easy in todays digital world to become a crutch for your team. I recently had a manager who called or texted me with every little question, whether I was at work or home. This became exhausting and was rooted in her lack of confidence in her abilities. It required a little “unplugging” to get her on the track of leading her team effectively, even when I’m not there.


Jon Mertz  |  06 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Great real life example, David! Yes, this is where trust comes into play. It can be about self-trust and team trust. I do believe there is some type of trust metric that can devised around how connected people may be during vacations and whether or not they even take vacations!

Appreciate your voice in the conversation. Thanks!


Burke Allen  |  06 Aug 2012  |  Reply

would be interesting to see how this breaks down between companies of various sizes

< 20 employees
< 50 employees
< 100 employees
< 250 employees
< 1,000 employees
< 5,000 employees
10,000 employees

Jon Mertz  |  06 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Burke, I agree. I thought about the size of company, as this will change some of the dynamics of how to adapt vacation policies. No matter what size the company, though, at some point in time people need to unplug from it all. It will renew perspectives and give organization a need boost when they return.

Thanks for your comment!


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