How to Take a Vacation Guilt-Free

Beach Ball, Sunglasses, Art, Paul Honatke, Vacation, Wellbeing, Primavera, Danielle Collins

“Beach Ball” by Paul Honatke


On this sunny June day, I’m daydreaming of the ocean, so let me get straight to the point.

If you have accrued vacation days – GO. Travel. Escape.

Taking a vacation is one of the most important things you can do for your wellbeing, and you’ll enjoy the dividends in all areas of your life after you return.

“But taking time off is almost not even worth it,” you say. “It’s so hard to get away, and there’s a mountain of work on my desk just waiting for me when I return.”

I understand. As a previous fundraiser myself, I remember my own struggles. Now, as a coach, I often hear my clients worry that there is never an end to the number of donors they could cultivate, or grants they could write. Some of them sense disapproval from their co-workers for putting family first, and they feel guilty for wanting a vacation.

If you chose to get away less last year, you’re not alone. According to Project: Time Off,

• 52 percent of Americans didn’t use all the vacation time they earned in 2017.

• These employees forfeited 212 million days (the equivalent of $62.2 billion).

• Workplace optics play a role. Employees who worried their co-workers would see them as lacking dedication – or worse, being replaceable – took even less vacation time.

As Americans, we value hard work, achievement, and competition. The problem is that we think the path to success is overwork and burnout. We must be busy, busy, busy, at all costs. This is actually a short-term solution, that may initially get results, but at the expense of ourselves, the employees who are the heartbeat of our organizations.

The performance isn’t sustainable.

It’s time to create a new paradigm – a culture of wellbeing that honors our need for rejuvenation, while creating an environment that promotes high performance.

If you are a team leader and want to create a culture of wellbeing in your nonprofit, keep reading – there are tips just for you near the end of this post.

Three Benefits of Taking a Vacation

1. When you travel, you have the opportunity to explore and learn. Each day may bring something unfamiliar, providing you with a sense of adventure. Meeting new people, enjoying different food, and participating in local customs can provide you with a rich, new perspective.

In addition, the beautiful landscapes and scenery have a profound effect on our spirits. Travel gives us the opportunity to connect to something greater than ourselves. Whether we’re hiking the Camino de Santiago or ambling through a Redwood grove, our steps are sacred.

In short, travel changes you, for the better.

2. When you travel, it is often with your favorite people. It will be these memories that you cherish, quite possibly even on your deathbed.

Did you get that? These memories will give your life meaning, joy, and fulfillment. I’m 99.9 percent sure that working overtime in your cubicle will NOT be what you are most grateful for when you are dying.

3. When you travel, you recharge your depleted energy. Let me take a moment to remind you that you are human and cannot handle everything your work is throwing at you, at the frantic pace it is being thrown, always and forever. You, like every other person, need to step away. You need to renew.

Vacations are good for your body, mind, and spirit. You will return to work happier, more creative, and more productive.

At the audit firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young) employees with the highest performance reviews were also those that used more vacation days. In fact, for every 10 vacation hours an employee took, their performance reviews were 8 percent higher. Vacations were also linked to employee longevity.

Holy rejuvenation, Batman! It’s time for a vacation!

Surfer Girl, Paul Honatke, Art, Vacation, Wellbeing, Primavera, Danielle Collins

“Surfer Girl” by Paul Honatke

The Key to a Guilt-Free Vacation

Author Penelope Burk has studied staff turnover in the development field, and one of her ideas for retaining fundraisers is to give them unlimited vacation time.

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? You could finally take that trip to Patagonia. In reality though, companies like Netflix and Twitter have discovered that their employees actually take even fewer vacation days when they have unlimited time off. The companies developed a “warrior mentality” where taking time off is seen as a weakness. Peer pressure keeps employees in the office, rather than in Argentina.

Definitely NOT my idea of guilt-free!

If unlimited vacation time isn’t the key, what is? Fascinating research by Neil Pasricha and Shashank Nigam shows that one solution may be Mandatory Vacations.

That’s right, people, with this model, everyone absolutely positively must take a scheduled vacation, multiple times a year. Each vacation is scheduled well in advance, and every person goes. There are no snide remarks or raised eyebrows, because there is finally no guilt for taking time away from the office. Hallelujah!

It sounds downright dreamy, to me.

Employees in the study returned from vacation feeling happier and more fulfilled, as many had checked off items from their bucket list. Yes!

We all can have a voice in helping the nonprofit world to embrace mandatory vacations. In the meantime, take good care of yourself. You alone are responsible for your wellbeing, and this includes adequate time away from the office.

And while you are vacationing, remember that it’s important to leave your laptop at home. Create healthy boundaries and fully enjoy your time away! Give yourself permission to completely disconnect, and you’ll return better rested and rejuvenated.

Pro Tip

In addition to needing vacations away from the office to recharge our depleted energy, we need to take breaks throughout our workdays to rejuvenate.

In a fascinating article, Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy explain that we naturally move from having high energy to low energy, multiple times a day. These 90- to 120-minute cycles are called “ultradian rhythms” and toward the end of each, our bodies crave recovery. When this happens, we might feel hungry, yawn, or want to walk around because we’ve lost our focus.

Unfortunately, we’re conditioned to stay at our desks and plow through our task list, rather than listen to the needs of our bodies. What reservoir of energy we may have is more quickly depleted if we don’t renew ourselves.

How can you take good care of yourself throughout the day? By disengaging from work at the end of these cycles. You can:

• Go for a walk outside

• Talk with a co-worker in the break room (about something besides work)

• Listen to music

• Take deep breaths

• Meditate

• Walk up and down the stairs

• Enjoy any healthy ritual that helps you to change your focus from work.

The quality of your renewal break is more important than its length, so have fun finding your own personal ways to disengage.

Remember that stepping away from your desk doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It means that your body and mind will function better throughout the day if you renew your energy. By taking care of yourself, you’ll feel better – and will be more creative and productive.

Tips for Team Leaders

If you’re a manager who wants to create a culture of wellbeing at your nonprofit, be sure to:

• Model wellbeing by taking vacations, and leave your work at home.  Also, be sure you take breaks to renew your energy throughout your workdays. Your employees will follow your lead.

• Promote mandatory vacations at your nonprofit.

• Create a culture of delegation and shared responsibility, so that each employee can leave for vacation knowing others will help cover her tasks.

• Provide a tranquil space in the office where employees can rest and recharge.

• Banish any warrior mentality and peer pressure that discourages employees from taking time off. Create a culture that instead honors the needs of your employees to rejuvenate.

I hope you treat yourself to a fabulous, guilt-free vacation.

You deserve it!

Coach, Consultant, Wellness

P.S. Click here if you’d like to see more masterpieces by Artist Paul Honatke.

P.P.S. If you are feeling overwhelmed with work, as a coach I can help you to overcome your fatigue and rediscover your confidence.  Click here for a free strategy session!

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