There was a time when vacations meant an escape from the daily grind of busy home and work life. A week floating effortlessly on the lake, or discovering European locales. It was the once-a-year opportunity to ignore everything that seemed so important the rest of the year, and in the words of writer and counterculture guru Timothy Leary, simply "turn on, tune in, drop out." Now, with our always-on lifestyle, vacations are less time off, and more time managed. A further activity to schedule, coordinate, manage, and most of all... share.
It would be easy to blame technology for this. When Steve Jobs famously launched the iPod in 2001 with "1,000 songs in your pocket" he omitted to say that this would lead to 1,000 emails too. Long gone are holiday postcards from the seaside, replaced now with neatly packaged digital content shared across global social platforms to far flung family, friends, and probably a few strangers too. Instagram may have handily replaced the old-school photo album, but has it also stolen free time to while away an afternoon reading or snoozing in a hammock.
According to a report by HR consulting firm Randstad, 42 per cent of employees say they feel obliged to check emails during vacation, and one in four feel guilty even using all of their vacation time. Have you noticed when someone is asked how they are, the reply is proudly "busy," as if that's a good thing. Busy seems to have become something of a validation of worth. It's ironic that with a growing interest towards mindfulness, there is still a culture that says to be overburdened and racing for what's next is something to strive for.
Interestingly, the business leaders we admire most will tell you that time is the greatest luxury. Legendary entrepreneur Richard Branson long ago said, "Time is the new money." Further, he backs this up by offering Virgin employees' unlimited time off. This is not Branson being altruistic, he knows it's good for business, helping attract and retain the best talent. Millennials, tomorrow's leaders, earn 20 per cent less than Boomers did at the same stage in life. In part this is explained by the increase in college studies, but it also signals an emerging pattern of measuring success in other ways, including personal growth through experiencing new perspectives, sources of inspiration and fully recharged batteries.
North American culture in particular has been built on the notion of work hard to win.
Sleep – the ultimate time off, is increasingly recognized as an important part of a well-rounded life. HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington describes working 18-hour days that finally led to her emotional and physical collapse. She now advocates for sleep as the third metric of success. Huffington may be part of the ultra rich 0.1 per cent, but start typing 'Why am I..." into Google and based on common searches it will automatically finish the question with "...so tired."
Smart people knew this long ago. Albert Einstein napped every day and slept up to ten hours per night. President John F. Kennedy took daily naps, and legendary basketball player LeBron James reportedly sleeps 12 hours each night. Even all-time great Roger Federer, who surely has nothing to prove, says, "If I don't sleep 11-12 hours a day, it's not right."
North American culture in particular has been built on the notion of work hard to win. Put in more hours than the next guy and you too will achieve your dreams. Incredibly, current U.S. legislation has no statutory minimum paid vacation or paid public holidays. Here in Canada we do a little better with a minimum 16 annual days of paid leave, but that still lags far behind most G20 countries with 29 days in Germany and 28 in the UK.
The reality is that we are no longer in the industrial age that defined the work week. That was driven to reduce the burden of relentless bosses forcing often back-breaking manual work of 60-80 hours each week. Success is less about hours of input and more the quality of output. Ask many younger business leaders, and beyond paying lip service to work life balance they will admit to how little correlation there is between office hours and success.
Thankfully the French are leading the way on this, showing us that it is possible to accept the advances of technology without being chained to them. As of January 1, 2017 a new law gives French workers at companies with 50 or more employees the right to disconnect from email, smartphones and other devices outside of agreed work hours. On top of great wine, food and galleries, chalk up another one to the French.
So as we hit the heady days of summer is it time to make yet another to-do list, replacing business meetings with other assignments? Checking work messages in secret, or travelling with a laptop to binge watch a Netflix series, while also preparing for that next work presentation. Maybe there is another way. One that recognizes how time off nourishes body and soul in ways that no app or corporate retreat can.
Sleep and vacation are good for health, and also for business. Whether enjoying a weekend nap, family staycation or global travel, lets remember the spirit of Timothy Leary by turning off the calendar invites and the friend notifications, to tune in to ourselves.
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