3 Reasons We Skip the Vacay When We Shouldn't, and What Smart Businesses Are Doing About It

My sister and I are very close. We each have three kids, work hard, and manage the endless to-do lists. We recently took a short vacation to Aruba with our husbands, thinking the three days away would give us time to reconnect, recharge, and relax.

In the air I did what any self-respecting woman does on vacation, and I picked up the Aruba travel magazine in the seat pocket. My whole body settled as I flipped through the photographs of the crystal clear water, restaurants, casinos, and water sports, until something caught my eye. It was an ad for...WIFI. The Aruba Tourism Bureau is advertising the strength of the WIFI in Aruba as a selling point. One "article" boasted how vacationers could stay connected even when walking all the way down the beach--from one end to the other.


Just think--you're on vacation, and you never have to look up from your phone.

I don't know why this surprised me; after all, it's become a cliche that American workers take less vacation than our counterparts around the world. And while technology enables us to work from anywhere--offering some vague promise of liberation--it also blurs the sacred line between work and home, and we end up working all the time. (Case in point: 82 % of people report checking their email after standard working hours).

I know this, I study this for a living. I live this. And yet, when I saw the hype around WIFI on the beach, it hurt!

Have real, old-fashioned, take-a-break-from-it-all vacations become obsolete? Something to aspire to? What's happening to us? And what are the effects? On us, and our businesses?

Another cliche is that employee engagement is at an all time low, and stress is a huge contributor, costing our economy 300 billion dollars a year. Maybe our lack of vacation is more than just a drag--maybe it's really costing us. That's what lots of smart business think, which is why they're doing something about it.

Here are three big reasons people skip the holiday, why they shouldn't, and how companies are convincing them to take one.

REASON #1 Employees don't take vacation because they believe that not taking it will impress their boss.

But they're wrong.

THE TRUTH IS: "Project Time Off" found that employees who took vacations were 6.5% more likely to get a promotion.

REASON #2 The stress of tackling the 7-day build up of overflowing email does not outweigh the benefits of going away.

This just might be TRUE!

Which is why smart companies like Huffington Post, and Daimler, are implementing tools to address this issue. These new-fangled vacation-savers automatically respond to absent employee's emails with a message saying that the person is out and that the sender will need to re-send the email upon their return.

REASON #3 A third reason employees don't take vacation is that IN TRUTH it is often an expensive, and sorely disappointing exercise in complicated re-location rather than a true break. Working all day from the beach, managing the dashed hopes of your spouse and kids can be even more stressful than just going to the office.

Which is why....

FullContact, a Denver based technology company, pays people $7500 to a vacation. Sounds like a no-brainer. But there's a catch: no technology. And Bandwidth, another tech company determined to transform the workplace, demands that employees take all their vacation, every year, and workers are not allowed to even check in with colleagues during that time.

Another enlightened policy that companies like General Electric, LinkedIn, Netflix, Grant Thorton are using to motivate employees to take their vacations is an unlimited vacation model. In other words, we don't care how much vacation you take. Just get your stuff done! This policy is a bit controversial, and doesn't always work, often because leaders aren't modeling it themselves. In fact, in a Harvard Business Review study of 19,000 people, only 25% of managers modeled sustainable work practices.

The bottom line is that human beings need a holiday--a time to meander, enjoy one another's company, sleep in, enjoy mediocre resort food, and do nothing. And in this digital age of 24X7 connectivity, such pleasures are absolutely essential. As Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation, says, "technology makes us forget what we know about life."

So true.

But getting away is not just about such pleasures. For better or for worse, these days, a vacation is a state of mind that requires some discipline to cultivate. If we don't pull the plug from time to time, we won't be able to truly connect with our families, our colleagues, and most importantly, ourselves.

So, over our three days in Aruba, yes, we occasionally succumbed to the allure of the all-powerful Aruban WIFI--mostly to touch base with our kids, and check some emails. But, we also had blocks of time when all of the phones stayed in the room. And this was the time I have nothing to show for. What a gift.