It's a Smile, It's a Break, It's Summer Time Off: Why It Helps Women Leaders

Taking work with you on vacation may seem inevitable, but not the best use of your down time. Now that summer has officially started, even if we love what we do, many of us are fantasizing perhaps about time off from work.Whether you have the trip of a lifetime planned, or just will sleep in and take long walks near your home, how best can you manage your days away so that you are refreshed when you return to the office and your duties?If you are an entrepreneur or small business owner, as women leaders the idea of any time off from your clients and your business may seem outrageous and inconceivable.And if you are a contract worker—such as a freelance writer or consultant who works on a project by project basis—how can you schedule time for yourself so you feel as if you have a vacation? And not spend your time worrying about your overall bottom line?First off, take the time allotted to you if you can. The cost may be your health, attitude and even your productivity if you don’t.“There are companies and departments within companies where self-imposed martyrdom has become something of a virtue, and attending 10 hours of conference calls while nominally on vacation is worn as a badge of honor. This is a misguided notion,” according to Patrick Gray in Tech Republic. “Not only is the occasional break from work necessary for mental recuperation and time with loved ones, but it also makes for better employees in the long run.”As women leaders, time off might actually be a responsibility, not a burden.It is good for your team to see you as a role model who can balance her life with fun and downtime, as well as intense goal-setting and productivity.[bctt tweet=“It is good for your team to see you as a role model who can balance her life with fun.”]“If you’ve succeeded in making yourself indispensable, even for a few days, you’ve ultimately failed as a leader and manager,” Gray writes. “If no one is capable of stepping up and managing the day-to-day activities of your group, and there is no one who can make reasoned decisions without your input, you’ve failed to create a pool of talent that can fill your shoes if you advance in the organization, and one that can function if you become incapacitated or overwhelmed when multiple simultaneous problems occur. If nothing else, a vacation tests the mettle of your team and provides a fairly low-risk way to validate that you’re cultivating leaders, effective management techniques, and processes that allow your group to function systemically and autonomously, rather than solely as a result of your constant prodding.”New research says there may be a new trend of work martyrs who do not ever take time off from the office, according to Diane Stafford in the Kansas City Star.“An online survey of 5,641 workers, conducted for Project: Time Off via the GFK KnowledgePanel with data interpretation by Oxford Economics, found that since 2000, there has been a steady decline in vacation use,” Stafford writes.“According to the report, Americans’ vacation time peaked at 20.3 days a year in 1983 and held somewhat steady until the decline began. Since 2000, nearly a full week of annual time off was shaved, with vacation use settling at 16.2 days in 2015,” she writes.“It bears mentioning that paid vacation is a pipe dream for millions of workers who sacrifice pay every day they take off from work. It’s no surprise that vacations are rare to nonexistent for them because they simply need the money and the job security they get from showing up to work every day.” Still, she writes, “Of the 658 million unused vacation days, 222 million were lost because they couldn’t be rolled over, paid out or banked for any other benefit, the organization reported.”That’s a whole lot of days where anyone, particularly women leaders, could have had some fun. And no, you do not have to plan a vacation like Beyonce on her private island in the Bahamas, or tack on a family trip after a business trip to East Africa like Melinda Gates.  But do try to plan something for a mental and physical break from work.According to Business Insider, “a 2015 survey from Glassdoor found that U.S. employees only use half (51 percent) of their eligible paid vacation time.”Take a break. Your body will thank you.“But no matter how worried you are, or how much you love your work, not taking regular vacations is a proven recipe for burnout that can lead to major health issues and end up requiring an even longer break away from work, says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “The Humor Advantage.“Kerr tells Jacquelyn Smith at BI: “The list of stress-related health issues caused by an endless work schedule is enormous, including sleepless nights, stomach issues, irritability, backaches, and tension headaches.“Smith writes that there are 12 signs you need a vacation or brief break from work, and they include daydreaming, making mistakes at work, trouble sleeping and thinking only about work to the detriment of your personal life.So, let’s say you do go on vacation. If you are like so many of us, you bring work along with you. Small Business Trends says this is not optimal.“You’re slipping your laptop and an attache case full of paperwork in with the coolers and suitcases but there’s no guarantee anything’s getting done. You may decide to call back to the office or check your online sales while you’ve got some down time.” Still, the author writes, “We’ve offered some productivity apps that help you get work done while you’re away from the office for an extended period of time.”“There are companies and departments within companies where self-imposed martyrdom has become something of a virtue, and attending 10 hours of conference calls while nominally “on vacation” is worn as a badge of honor. This is a misguided notion,” according to Tech Republic.Not only is the occasional break from work necessary for mental recuperation and time with loved ones, but it also makes for better employees in the long run. I’ve had some of my best ideas while contemplating a sunset or on a backpacking trip with my son, and when I return to the office with a clear head, I’m ready to approach problems with renewed focus and a new perspective.”The plight of the exhausted, overworked entrepreneur.All this is great in theory, but as an entrepreneur, it may not be possible unless you hire someone to do your work while you are gone.“A vacation is something people normally take from time to time to strike things off their bucket list or de-stress and rejuvenate themselves. It is instrumental in boosting their productivity at work too, since they come back with renewed vigor. But the question is whether an entrepreneur really has the luxury of taking a vacation, considering their work is meant to be their biggest passion?” That is the big question, writes Marshall Childs in Fundavision at Inc42.“Across the globe, entrepreneurs are infamous for burning the candle from both ends and working constantly. But what entrepreneurs don’t realize is that there are more pros than cons for an entrepreneur taking a vacation,” Childs writes.Small business owners Boni and John Wagner-Stafford write in Troy Media that as women leaders especially it may be even impossible to imagine not working constantly and taking any time off unless you pay for someone to take your place, hiring an employee and delegating responsibilities.“When I first started out, I did do everything,” said Sarah Picciotto, founder of OnPoint Legal Research. “Pretty soon I had to ask myself the tipping point challenge is it going to cost me more by way of my time than it would to hire someone to do this?”Going on an actually stress free vacation and making the most of it.In the best of all possible worlds, regardless of your position on the leadership ladder, or if you work for yourself or a mega corporation, you have decided you are taking time off this summer. Plan for what you will miss in your work as much as you plan for the vacation itself.Liz Reyer writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Do some pressure testing onGoing through contingency plans with your team can make your absence a manageable one.your plans, considering everything that could go wrong. Use ‘if… then…’ to develop contingency plans. This is best done with the whole team, each person thinking from their point of view, both in terms of potential problems and solutions.”Reyer continues, “Develop a list of backup people, and be sure they will really be available. It is beyond annoying — and unfortunately, quite common — to call a backup only to find that they are also on vacation. Remember, too, that there will be things that come up that are genuinely unpredictable. Accept that, do your best to plan, and don’t beat yourself up over those ‘out of the blue’ events.”Childs at Inc42 concurs: “A lot of times, even a short break could work wonders for an entrepreneur. This time off from work helps a person to introspect and figure out strengths and also things to do differently. This, in turn, is crucial to ensure that the startup is able to accomplish its goals faster and better.”