What vacations and piranha have in common

This Men’s Health article on fatigue in men mentions that men typically fail to take even 4 days of vacation per year. It seems hard to believe, regardless of the industry, but it does bring up an issue discussed quite often. The issue revolves around the idea that vacations are often more stressful than not taking vacations. The core concern doesn’t involve the stress of dragging the kids across the desert with a rabid dog or the back pain of sleeping on the in-law’s foldout couch.

The real apprehension around taking vacations often deals with (1) the amount of work piling up while gone, (2) missing important decision making process, and (3) not being able to defend against a work bully. To avoid these pains, people will give up unused vacation time and show up for meetings while on paid time off. Some might argue this shows real dedication, but as the article above proves, this is most likely creating a situation where the lack of a recharge will start to slowly take little bites from your mental health. (And hence, the weak piranha analogy is revealed.)

Some people deal with this by hooking up to the corporate email on vacation and just checking important emails while gone. (Absolute time boxing is essential.) This may seem counterintuitive, but for some, the decreased pressure can make the vacation more relaxing. I’ve seen others setup a designated substitute (possible a trusted peer or senior employee) while gone, who can make decisions and defend against a tear-down artist. This method has the added effect of building trust relationships with others in the group, which can ease the pressure during future vacations.

Another tactic for those having difficulty with time away from the office is to schedule vacation time when others are likely out of the office. While somewhat limiting to the family schedule, the chances important decisions are being made are lessened, and the amount of work piling up is often significantly decreased. Along the same lines of adopting one’s schedule, I’ve seen people take a series of 3-5 day vacations (ex. Fridays off for Nov and Dec), such that some time is spent in the office every week. Granted, short stints of time away may not completely clear one’s mind; it’s better than taking no time away or being tormented while sitting on the beach.

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