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This is a blog about Truth, Justice and the American Way. The stories are true. No names have been changed to protect anyone's identity, including my own. If the story is about me, then I'll say so right up front. If I don't use a name to identify whom the story is about, then it's because it's not relevant. So please do not call me or e-mail me with your kind condolences or unwarranted congratulations about something that you believe is a cleverly disguised bio from my alter ego. These stories, like my photo, are unretouched.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Get Outta Dodge!

There was a time this past Spring when I was a mess. Sure, some of you would say, “So what’s new?” But frankly, I was more of a mess than usual. My mother was ending a nasty, lengthy bout with terminal cancer and died in our house early on Memorial Day morning. Down at the Hawaii Women’s Business Center, we were the lucky recipients of a random federal audit by the SBA and the pressure was so great that after following my mother’s body to the mortuary that morning, I racked up nearly 86 hours of work over the next six days.

By the following week I was exhausted, emotionally drained, and strung tighter than a piano wire (high E over C, for those of you obsessed with detail). Some excellent friends urged me to get as far out of town as possible. In fact, they practically insisted that I join them in England. When I broached the subject with my husband he ask, “When were you thinking of leaving?"

“Tomorrow,” I answered. Bless his heart, he supported my impetuosity and kissed me goodbye.

It was the best decision I had made in years. I returned refreshed, renewed, calm and back on my game. I arrived home a different person than the one who left.

I am a great believer in the need to periodically step away and recharge the batteries. It is for this reason that when I negotiated my last job position, I voluntarily traded additional salary for five weeks of annual paid vacation to begin during the first year of employment. I tried not to be a jerk about it. My understanding was that I would never take more than 15 days at a time.

I have a Greek foreign-exchange student “sister.” Leda is frankly appalled by our American “work ethic.” In the 15 nations of the European Union, by law all full-time employees must be given a minimum of four weeks’ paid vacation per year. The same is true for part-time employees who have worked for at least 13 weeks. (In Greece, the standard is six weeks.) Even workers in McDonald’s get 4-5 weeks of paid vacation. Also, the notion of “accruing” vacation time doesn’t apply; employees are generally entitled to their four (or more) weeks of vacation time from the moment they are hired. It’s not considered an earned perk; it’s considered part of the job.

In all my years as an employer, I have never turned down an employee’s request for vacation time. I know for a certainty that exhaustion and stress equals depression and in turn, poor productivity. Speaking of productivity, did you know that when France reduced its official work week to 35 hours a few years ago, studies showed that there was no loss in productivity. How can this be? The answer was found in the way employees spend their time at work. Europeans generally work – then they go home.

Americans on the other hand spend large amounts of work time socializing with clients and other employees, dealing with personal e-mail and non-business phone calls – in other words, avoiding work in order to cope with the high level of workplace stress.

On May 21, 2009, Florida Congressman Alan Grayson introduced a bill amending the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The bill is called the 2009 Paid Vacation Act. Google it and read some fascinating and horrific statistics showing that at in least 148 countries, including all industrialized nations and all developed countries, only the U.S. fails to provide a minimum annual paid leave statute. American workers suffer twice the rate of clinical depression as their European counterparts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works one month (160 hours) more today than in 1976. In 1980, we ranked 11th in the world in life expectancy; we now rank 42nd. While you’re Googling on the web (probably during work hours), also check out the movement “Take Back Your Time Day” at Timeday.org or read the May 19th issue of US Business Week. The info will curl your toenails.

In the meantime, try these tips on your next vacation:

• Don’t check your business e-mail. I placed an “out of the office” automatic response on my office account with the message that if it was an absolute emergency, my staff knew how to reach me in Europe (and they did – twice).

• Resist the urge to call the office to see how things are going. They are going fine, thank you. The world will rotate without your assistance. In circumstances where there is a real emergency, see the above paragraph.

• If you are unable to get through your vacation day without “checking in” at least once, see the telephone directory yellow pages under the listing “Psychiatrists.”

• If your job requires that you check in at least once a day, even on vacation, or be available 24/7, see the CareerBuilder section of your local newspaper under the listing, “Jobs Available.” (This advice does not apply if you hold the title National Director of Homeland Security or President of the United States.)

It’s off-peak season in most parts of the world. There are surprising deals out there for the taking, particularly in the area of cruise ships, which are overbuilt and underbooked. For instance, right now Expedia.com is having a sale on 3 & 4-day cruises in the Bahamas from $149 per person. Those prices aren’t per day – it’s the whole enchilada including stateroom, 5 meals a day, nightly entertainment, baggage transfers, everything. You can’t do Zippys and Motel 6 for that kind of money.

The kids are back at school. Taking a vacation from them isn’t the worst idea either. Ask grandma to move in for a week or make a deal with another parent (you’ll watch theirs if they’ll watch yours). GO AWAY! Do not stay home and paint the garage. Do NOT attend a career-related seminar, even if it is held at Disney World. Do something mindless; something you’ve never done before.

I know how hard this is. Prior to my little escapade to England this spring, I confess to having taken only a few days off over the past two years (making that carefully negotiated vacation deal a complete waste of time). But when I did finally go, it changed my life and I cannot too highly recommend it.

Slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan. And if your work is a hodgepodge – Just Get Outta Dodge!

1 comment:

  1. And that my dear sister is just what I did coming to visit you. While I Facebooked and shared my excitement from the islands, I tended to no business other than personal pleasure and contact with those on the mainland that I desired to stay in close communique with.

    Knowing full well that I was returning to a whole new structure, I likely should have spent some time planning accordingly for the transition, but I managed to secure enough of the specifics prior to my departure to leave the rest at the office and leave the rest behind.

    As you well know, paradise had it's stress and challenges for me while visiting, but as you frequently remind me ... it is part of the adventure. This journey to the islands was certainly an adventure, but with it it hindsight, it is still amazing and therapeutic.

    It also taught me a few new tricks about what to do and not do while vacationing in Hawaii. But I agree that you are correct ... set the away message on your email, and do just that ... get away. It is the best thing for starting over fresh.