Who killed Vacation?

What happened to Vacation? It used to be a time to let go, to separate from work, to engage with family and friends, to work hard on something else. A time to refresh, to recharge, to renew. Not anymore – a shadow of its former self – paler, thinner, hunched over.

We still stay out of the office in a physical sense, but not in a virtual one. Our butts may be “on vacation” in that we sit someplace else, but our brains are not. They’re still fully invested in office things, running in the background as our butts enjoy their vacation. We’ve got all the downside of being out of the office with none of the upside. It’s almost worse than not having vacation. At least we don’t fall behind when not on vacation.

Who’s to blame? The technology? Our company? I don’t think so. We are. Sure the technology makes it easy: cell coverage across the globe (accept in New Hampshire), fast connections, nice screens, and full thumb keyboards to crank out the email. But, if I’m not mistaken, those little pda bastards still have an off switch. If your thumb can pound the keys, it can certainly mash the off switch. Can’t shut the damn thing off because you want to respond to the emergency work call? That’s crap. Work emergencies don’t exist, they’re artificial, self-made.  We create them to increase the sense of urgency. Don’t buy that? Here’s another rationale: you’re not giving others the opportunity to think while you’re gone. You’re telling them they’re not capable of thinking for themselves, you’re dismantling their self esteem, and hindering their growth.

Our company? Sure, they make it hard to let go, with implications that important projects must run seamlessly, that the ball must still be advanced. But, we’re the ones who decide what our brains think about. We must decide to give others an opportunity to shine, to give away the responsibility to someone who can likely do it better. If you ask the company what they want when we return, they’ll say they want us to come back recharged, ready to see things differently, ready to be creative, ready to be authentic. You cannot be that person without letting go. Without letting go, you’ll return the same worn soul who can but raft downstream with the current instead of swimming violently against it.

Take responsibility for your vacation. Own it, tell others you own it. Tell them you’re serious about letting go, working hard on something else, recharging. Use the all powerful Out of Office AutoReply as it was intended, to set everyone’s expectations explicitly (including your own).

Out of Office AutoReply: I am on vacation.

11 Responses to “Who killed Vacation?”

  • Jonas Holmlund:

    To my belief most people feel afraid of letting go of the usual behaviour or the daily agenda. Going to, being at, and finally coming home from work is a safe mantra for anyone. When being faced with vacation, the daily routine is shaken and turned up-side-down. People like routines. It´s easy and predictable and keeps the human mind in balance.

    Hence, I also belief that people are afraid of letting go from the ordinary routines to a fully “relaxed mode”. They know how much work there is to set things in order again whenever the vacation is over. Morale also play a key role here. Relaxing tends to be a “forbidden” thing to do due to work morale. This is plain stupidity. People need to relax, period.

    Another reason, more psychological, is the fact that people are afraid to let go because they are afraid of finding out that the rushing life they live is completely wrong. They are afraid of finding themselves. Hope I´m wrong about this…

    In the Nordic countries of Europe we usually have 4 weeks of summer holiday and also one week during the winter. I´ve noticed that it takes (both for me and my colleagues) more than 2 weeks to get into the real “relaxation mode”.

    The best day about vacation is the day before it begins. Therefore I´d like to quote Winnie the Pooh;
    “Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best — ” and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”

  • Jonas…I enjoyed your Pooh analogy. I would like to find out if there is a term describing that moment in time where the tingle of anticipation rushes in.

    Mike is right about “anti-vacation”. As I read through the paragraphs, I was realizing “Hey, this is me!”. Thinking back on the last few vacations I took, they were not vacations at all. In fact, one was seriously career-related. If you take some supposed-to-be personal time away to recharge and mellow out, why do we take anything work-related with us. And it’s so damned common to see that. I recall spending a vacation away with dear friends. I awoke one morning at our rented beach-front condo and went downstairs to find both of them at their computers (and coffee)…WORKING! I didn’t make a big deal out of it becaust it could have been me. But they may as well have been sitting at their desks or a hotel room getting ready for a meeting.

    Okay…I have been currently trying to decide on the location of my next vacation (for real!). I can’t decide between Nevis or Bora Bora. Tough choice for me. But for all the reasons I want to go there…I promise not to take ANY work-related gaget with me to keep the connection. I PROMISE. I remember I got along great before there were cell phones.

    Bon Voyage

  • Alan Hamilton:

    I agree with all of Mike’s comments and reasoning, and I believe it is a true weakness and sickness in our society. The expectations in many cases come from our bosses and their bosses. When they send us e-mail and texts while they are on vacation, the implicit expectation is that we will never be out of touch when we vacation. We must fight this expectation with all our might in order to reclaim our vacation, and then show the self discipline to turn off our phone and computer for the duration of vacation. When your boss replies to an e-mail while on vacation, you must respond to him to shut it off, step away, and enjoy the detachment. Be clear to him or her that he is, by his actions, ruining your upcoming vacation, and that you do not appreciate it. Creating guilt has worked for centuries by our wives and mothers, use it!

  • Mike, it’s been my experience that it is a combination of personal responsibility, local culture and customs (company and country), and the self-control of your supervisor. If the local culture is one of “work 24/7”, it is much more difficult to keep your job if you leave your work at work. My European colleagues always hold “holiday” sacred — when you are on it, you DO NOT work, and are not to be contacted, nor are you expected to respond to emails. And this is perfectly acceptable.

    Your supervisor can help make sure you concentrate on recharging and refreshing by providing “air cover” for you while you are gone, by respecting that you ARE on vacation. By NOT contacting you while you are out, and discouraging other employees from contacting you as well, sends a clear message that your vacation is really your time.

    But most important, one has to take personal responsibility. By being clear, in advance, with your supervisor, co-workers, and peers that you will NOT be available during your vacation, you pave the way for really enjoying your vacation without guilt. Oh, and it helps to include in your Auto-response email message that while you are gone, you will “have limited or no access to email”, so either they wait until you get back to have the issue addressed, or they handle it some other way.

  • Mike:

    Dave, power down, go cold turkey. You can do it. You’ll have withdrawal symptoms for a couple days, but they’ll pass.

  • Mike:


    Thanks for your perspective. It’s disturbing to hear that the first two weeks of your holiday are only the cool down for the actual holiday – the last two weeks. In the US it’s rare that we take even two weeks at a time.

  • Mike:


    Great detailed suggestions. Straightforward and on-the-mark.


  • Mike S:

    Then you have the people at Challenger, Grey, & Christmas (consulting agency) who write articles every so often urging people to “stay connected to the office” while on vacation, for fear that you will be replaced when you get back…. absolutely rediculous, promoting mass paranoia


  • Laura:

    I moved from Europe (NL) to North America 3 years ago. I was used to go on 3 week holidays in the summer. And as Jonas said, the first week of that is just letting go still before you can really enjoy your holiday.
    My first vacation in Canada was 10 days, I came back more stressed than I went. I was trying to get everything out of it because I knew it was only a week that I had.
    Since my move, no vacation has been truly satisfying anymore. Unlike before at the end I never feel it was really good and I am ready to go back to work.
    It’s the main reason I don’t want to stay here forever.

  • Steven:

    I have absolutely no trouble leaving work at work when I go on vacation. I usually camp where it’s likely that there is no cell service, and I turn my phone off so it will be charged if I need it for a real emergency. In fact, most people who might imagine they have an emergency I should respond to don’t even have my cell phone mumber. When I’m in the mountains or on the beach, I don’t check message on my home phone, I don’t check email, I play.

    It’s harder for me to get back “into the groove” when I return to work than it was to get out of it when I left. And, most days I try to have the same approach when I leave the office to go home. My boss knows not to call me just to see what progress was made that day, or to pass on his work-related ideas that could really wait until tomorrow, or to remind me of a nearing due date, etc.

    Of course, I’m a grumpy old fart and don’t jump to answer the phone if it rings when someone is in my office, and I use the screen on my cell phone to decide whether I recognize the number and want to talk to the person before taking any call. It’s nice to have a mobile answering machine :-).

  • Mike and all,

    I completely agree! It is us that do not set the expectations for our rest. However I will say corporate American culture does not help. But what is that really but executives who have no boundaries. We all need boundaries and fail to create healthy ones. How can any of us gain creative energy, fresh perspective, and clear decision making without a break from the daily and weekly grind?

    Leave the iPhone, Droid, and Blackberry in the luggage and go for a long walk, swim, or boat ride. Enjoy some fresh air and get inspired!


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