Friday, July 27, 2012

I need a vacation from my vacation

My inbox has at least two dozen links to the story of Bart Lorang, CEO of Denver-based internet start-up FullContact, sending his employees on vacation while picking up the tab (not to exceed $7500).

There are strings attached, but not the ones you may think. The fully-paid vacation requires that you actually go on vacation—and connectivity back to the office is verboten (“no calls, emails, tweets, or work of any kind”). Full disclosure, I’m posting this while on vacation with my family. Better yet, we’re at a camp with the motto “A Vacation with a Purpose,” which, among other things, also implies that I shouldn’t be in contact with the office.

After reading the article and getting over the “that would be really cool” aspect (it took about 5 seconds), I could sense my blood pressure rising as I thought about how impossible it would be to do that. As I was thinking about clients, co-workers, and friends, I could not think of one person who could completely “unplug” from their business (owners in particular) or job. Could it be because “work” (as it’s broadly defined) is more than just work?

I found it particularly interesting because Bart Lorang, by his own admission, stated “I suck at it” regarding following his own rules. I was reminded of an often-cited New York Times article that collected scientific and informal data indicating that taking time away from work actually has positive health aspects. The data “… looked at 12,000 men over nine years who were at high risk for coronary heart disease. Those who failed to take annual vacations had a 21 percent higher risk of death from all causes and were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack.” Yuck. But I suppose a heart attack is a good reason to take time off.

So, if a vacation is supposed to be a good time to unplug, take time off, enjoy time with family and friends, and it’s also good for your health, why are we not taking time off, and  forfeiting unused vacation time, all the while tethered to our phones and laptops? I think I can sum it up in one word: Duty.

When I was growing up, I remember my father taking about 1 week off (usually the middle of summer between different corn and wheat harvests). His generation never took much time off because they were “married to their jobs” and in the case of farmers “married to their crops.” It was our livelihood. Being in an increasingly post-agrarian economy, that same mentality and sense of duty is still woven into our DNA. We are determined to do our part (whether business owner or entry level employee) to ensure the success of the companies we work for.

In some ways, I hope we never shake that sense of duty. In others, we need to get better at it because (as my brother often reminds me) when we’re old, we’ll likely never reflect and say ‘I wish I spent more time at the office’… As for me, I’m getting a C- on my vacation and my wife thinks I’m back in the family automobile looking for something (I think I found it)…

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