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Why Do We Freak Out When People Take a 2-Week Vacation?

Despite many organizations emphasizing the importance of mental health, there's still a hint of stigma in the workplace attached to stepping away for more than standard single-week vacation.

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I just got back from a two-week vacation, and it’s got me thinking about why there’s still a hint of stigma attached to stepping away for more than standard single week. 

This might be a good time to take a look at that, and not just because of the global re-examination that’s underway about the compact between people and their employers. 

For millions of Americans actively reassessing their relationship with work, getting a fix on their comfort level with taking a two-week vacation might be a reasonable indicator of whether they’re at the right company. 

And if you’re in any formal leadership position, ask the same question — as a gauge on the culture of the organization and your own feeling about how we demonstrate work ethic and commitment.

A record 768 million vacation days went unused in 2018, a year-to-year increase of nine percent, according to the U.S. Travel Association. In the same year, travel insurance leader Allianz Group found that 57 percent of American workers took no vacation time at all. 

Something is out of whack.

I got my own wake-up call on this a few years ago.

As a Kiwi coming from a company founded in New Zealand, I watched the NZ expats working in our U.S. business shift from two- or three-week vacations — which are typical down under — and adopt the paradigm of one week away at a time.

And I wasn’t just watching it happen with my colleagues. I dropped into that same pattern myself. 

Then, the first time I mentioned plans to break out of that pattern and take a two-week vacation, the response was, “Can you really do that?”

It turns out the answer is an easy, healthy, “yes.” I see the argument in favor of extended breaks — at least two weeks — operating on at least three levels. 

Related: 5 Ways to Persuade Employees to Take Vacation Before They Burn Out

The benefit to the individual

The point of vacation is a full break from work’s stress and pressures. But can we really recharge in a single week that goes something like — pack, travel, unpack, attempt to relax, re-pack, return home, report to work? 

In my experience, it’s only on day seven or eight — somewhere in the second week — that we  experience the luxury of forgetting what day it is. 

Related: Why 'Vacation-Shaming' Hurts You More Than Your Employees

The benefit to the leader

Leaders can set an example that makes two-week vacations entirely unremarkable.

If you’re going to be away for a week, the mindset of the work group is something like, No worries. She’ll be back on Monday. Whatever "it" is, it can wait that long. But two weeks forces a system to emerge in order for the job to continue.

When that happens, we might just gain some new insight on empowerment and initiative. What didn’t work? What remained too dependent on me? Which delegations weren’t clear or comfortable?

Related: 3 Types of Vacations That Will Make You a Better Entrepreneur

The benefit to the organization

Companies that run on innovation restock energy and creative reserves. Methods of work are fortified with new systems, individual development and self-confidence.  

If all that still feels a little too squishy or clashes with prevailing notions of high performance, throw in the impact of Covid. 

No doubt, the pandemic drove business to a number of “no turning back” points over the last year, one of them being the reprioritization of individual wellness and mental health. As a result, the virus delivered two outcomes that might be unprecedented in the history of labor — massive job losses and a labor shortage. 

The workforce exodus of millions of Americans in the first half of this year — the so-called “Great Resignation” — is less a mass retirement than a “Great Re-Evaluation.” 

Most of these people will end up somewhere else, after a carefully considered look at the value of their own time, compensation including benefits, personal health, and their view of culture, values and the treatment of people. 

If you’re on the fence, run an experiment on yourself.

Lead by example: If it’s not your standard now, summon the courage to take your own two-week vacation as a natural extension of everything you’ve done to build a capable team. 

Take the long view: Of the changing nature of the employment compact, and the expectations of people, especially those with the most choices, and encourage this shift in culture as part of your proposition to current and prospective employees. 

Trust your people: Believe you’re building a stronger culture and company by letting it all run without you for a couple of weeks.

And go.

Related: Why You Really Need to Unplug While on Vacation (Infographic)

Ben Richmond

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Ben Richmond is a chartered accountant and U.S. country manager at Xero, where he is responsible for driving Xero’s growth in the region. Ben has been recognized by CPA Practice Advisor as a “20 Under 40 Influencer” and was named Accounting Today’s “Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting.”