The health care reform initiative is hitting major roadblocks; unemployment remains a growing concern. The wave of popularity that ushered Barack Obama into office is showing signs of weakening; his approval numbers are just over 50%. So what’s the President to do?
Take a Vacation. As August wound to a close, Obama stated that his mission was to play golf and spend time with his wife and young daughters, if only for a few days. Regardless of how you feel about the President, taking a vacation should be nonpartisan. We all need to take a break, and the President is sending a strong message – make time for yourself.
Working hard is a laudable American tradition, but so too is working long hours. According to the World Tourism Organization, Americans take the fewest vacation days of any nation in its report – just 13 paid days. Compare that to 42 days for Italian, 37 for French, 35 for German, and 25 for both Korean and Japanese workers.
Enough is enough. Working diligently and deliberately is a must; working through exhaustion is folly. Here are five reasons why you need to take a break.
1. Break from the routine. As much as you enjoy work, there are aspects that become routinized. The positive aspect of routine is that it sets patterns for getting things done in order and on time. The downside of routine is that it leads to staleness and sterility. Getting out of the work routine is vital to maintaining a healthy outlook on work. It can freshen your attitude.
2. Reconnect with family. Work is only one part of your day. For most executives, the most neglected part is time with spouse and children. Road trips play havoc with family life. Setting aside time to be present with loved ones is not only good for them, it’s good for you.
3. Get in touch with self. Kick back and think about where you are in life and what you want to accomplish. Ask yourself what is fulfilling about your job and use the answers to consider making changes. No matter how good things are, we can always make improvements. Also, use the time to think about how you can do more for your direct reports, perhaps starting with giving them more responsibilities.
4. Let your mind ruminate. The pace of work can be unrelenting. So many senior executives tell me that the only time they can think is on an airplane. Use the vacation as your long plane ride without the cramped seating and stuffy air.
5. Smell the roses. Make certain that your vacation isn’t so packed with activities that you don’t have time to sit and reflect.
Of course senior leaders, such as our President, really never get away. For example, while on vacation, the President re-appointed Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve and delivered a eulogy for Senator Ted Kennedy. Leaders are only a phone call away from an emergency, but by taking a break they demonstrate that a change of scenery is in order. It breaks up the work routine and allows the executive a change of pace.
The challenges facing you seldom disappear with time. But coming back to them after an absence allows you to face them with a renewed sense of vigor and purpose. Time spent away from the office may also have given you an opportunity to think of new approaches, or reconfirm your intended strategies.
August 31, 2009, John Baldoni, Harvard Business at Work