A couple of weeks until summer ends, and yet in the midst of it all, like many working parents, I find myself trying to create some form of schedule for my son while he’s on his summer vacation. The guilt of not being able to take three weeks off at a stretch sits with me but rather than dwell on it, I must work through the emotions to explore and come up with creative ways to keep him busy or rather alternative modes of child care. But there’s one more thing here that lingers with me: Summer is supposed to be a time for vacations and while occasional long weekend trips and possibly a week’s vacation can satisfy the taste of enjoying the summer months, what about working parents who don’t have time off work.
For many, long weekends, possibly a week here and there is all one can do. Life doesn’t stop or “close shop” in the summer months. In fact life seems to be getting more hectic and busier with work. There are huge demands and deadlines that continue to come in at workplaces as if almost ignoring that “hey, summer is here,” it’s time to slow down, it’s time to unwind so we can be charged up for the fall.
Just like a child who has the summer off from a long school year so he/she can free their mind and enjoy the fresh air and play, adults too need that permission to take time off and play. Remember that saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Too much work and not enough time for rest and relaxation and play are not good for productivity and creativity.
I recently read an article in the Huffington Post about vacations in European countries. According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, European countries lead the world in guaranteeing paid leave for its workers. Spain and Germany offer 34 days of paid leave each year. Italy and France guarantee 31 days of paid vacation, and Belgium requires 30. These numbers include both mandatory vacation and public holidays. In Europe, August is known as “the unofficial start of summer vacation,” which says something about a society’s attitude and perception towards families, towards rest and relaxation and towards enjoying life.
Most U.S. companies guarantee at least 21 paid days off, but that depends on the company’s individual vacation policies and employees’ accrued time off. As a working mother whose vacation schedule works around my son’s school calendar, 21 vacation days may not be enough.
I’m a firm advocate of taking time off, and I do so the moment I’m able to take off. I believe taking time off brings back rejuvenation and lets you come back to your routine with a new perspective and more energy. I wonder what would happen if employers began adopting policies that favour quality of life?
I support organizations that promote wellness and self-care for their employees. One way they do this is by increasing vacation time for employees and creating a flexible working schedule for the summer. One of the perks at a prior job was having “summer hours.” This was a huge perk because it provided employees with the opportunity to enjoy summer while having paid time to leave early. Some companies make a policy of closing early on Fridays during the summer months. It sends a message to the employees which is: You are valued and while we may not be able to pay you to take more time off or increase your salaries, we can show our appreciation by providing you with these perks.
We live in a culture that’s geared to constantly produce. We work long hours, we’re constantly on the go, and if it isn’t work, it’s the never-ending list of chores and activities that we’re constantly planning for ourselves and our families. We get the weekend off to ourselves and we want to pack in as much as possible during those two days because the days are longer and the weather is beautiful. And in between that we watch the summer go by before our very eyes.
I was quite impressed when I read about TED.com’s vacation policy. For two weeks in August, almost the whole staff goes on vacation. As CEO June Cohen explains it, “When you have a team of passionate, dedicated overachievers, you don’t need to push them to work harder, you need to help them rest. By taking the same two weeks off, it makes sure everyone takes vacation,” she says. “Planning a vacation is hard—most of us would feel a little guilty to take two weeks off if it weren’t pre-planned for us, and we’d be likely to cancel when something inevitably came up. This creates an enforced rest period, which is so important for productivity and happiness.”
Perhaps as a society and culture we may want to be begin re-examining our attitude towards our employees so that businesses can flourish. Perhaps our work culture needs to begin paying attention to the things that really matter to people and incorporate them into their human resources policy. Happier people produce happier results.
by Anjali Mani