Should You Work During Vacation?
“No man needs a vacation so much as a man who has just had one.”
The first time I deployed to Bosnia, I worked for a while in a headquarters unit before taking over my tank platoon. This was in 1996, when the Internet hadn’t really become ubiquitous. Our office got a satellite phone which we could use to call back to the United States in the case of needing to provide family emergency notifications, either with an injured or killed soldier. The phone number was an Atlanta area code, so occasionally, we’d get a random wrong number call. I can imagine that the person on the other end of the line was quite confused when we continued to insist that, by dialing a local number, the caller had reached Bosnia.
The Army allowed rest and recuperation leave for two weeks during the deployment, so before I took over my tank platoon, I went home for my leave. Even though I was supposed to be resting and recuperating, one of the things I couldn’t wait to do was plop a quarter in a pay phone and call the office in Bosnia. For some reason, the idea of calling Bosnia from a local phone was fascinating. Unfortunately, nobody in the office thought this was as fascinating as I did, since I was calling while on leave, and they were still deployed.
This episode started my rather unfortunate history of never being able to completely drop work during any vacations.
Not only am I not alone, I’m, surprisingly to me, in the majority. Americans take less and less vacation, and the vacation we take doesn’t seem to truly be an escape. Even the etymology of the word suggests a different picture than what we do nowadays. The origin is “freedom from something” – in this case, freedom from work.
Of course, very few people in the 14th century had the opportunity to take vacation. Nowadays, we’re expected to take vacation.
But, instead of truly taking vacation and getting away from work, we take on the victim mentality and tell ourselves that work needs us. It’s our attempt to make that relationship a little less unilateral. Most of us need work for the income, the benefits, and even the social network. In few cases, unless we’re the owner or know how to do something that nobody else can do which makes the business go, the relationship doesn’t go the other way. We’re replaceable, so while taking a vacation, we tell ourselves that we need to at least check in, if not do more, to make ourselves less easily replaced.
You’d think Monkey Brain would want you to relax, wouldn’t you? Leisure is the currency of Monkey Brain. However, in this case, fear drives Monkey Brain’s activities. Remember, prospect theory tells us that a loss hurts us more than an equivalent gain makes us feel good (to read more about prospect theory, you can read Play the Market Like a Hedge Fund Manager). Monkey Brain fears losing your job more than he views the gain you get from vacation, and tells you that you need to work during vacation.
I co-founded a company, and we made sure that we had a generous vacation policy. We wanted our employees to take vacation, mostly to avoid burnout.
What we suspected in our gut – that vacation alleviates burnout – is further supported by professors Mina Westman and Dov Eden from Tel Aviv University. The benefits do fade over time, but, what is important, is that having asatisfying vacation improves the burnout reduction.
In other words, if you work during your vacation, you’re probably going to come back nearly as burned out as when you left for vacation. That helps neither you nor your employer, making you less effective, and defeating what you were trying to avoid in the first place – making yourself irreplaceable.
Yet, completely unwinding from vacation sounds easier than it is to put into practice. Getting completely away was much easier in 1996 when there weren’t many cell phones or Internet-connected computers. Here are some suggestions for how to make it easier to pull out the scissors and cut the cord:
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Jason Hull is a Fort Worth fee only, hourly financial planner who serves clients in Fort Worth, TX and Dallas, TX as well as serving clients nationwide.
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