Are you afraid of vacation?

CEOs’ vacation anxiety can set an unhealthy example

Much has been written about the state of vacation time usage in America these days. According to Project: Time Off, American workers are taking a week less vacation time now than they were between 1978-2000 … an average of 16.5 days. Additionally, we’re constantly connected to the office via devices of all kinds, so we’re getting less down time than we’ve had in generations.

This trend has a host of adverse consequences for our physical and mental health, our family relationships and the companies where we work. Still, so many of us refuse to do the one thing we need the most … take a vacation!

Who’s going to carry the load?

As leaders, we need to own the fact that our attitudes about time off spread to the people around us. And that is a fearful thing, right? If we start taking two-week vacations, everyone around us will start doing the same thing.

Then what? Who’s going to carry the load? Those emails are going to keep coming. I’ll get so far behind! What if a donor or board member can’t reach us for something important? What if they lose confidence in me or think my commitment is fading?

There is no limit of things to fear when disconnecting from the office is concerned. The fact is this is a small, unhealthy view of ourselves and the world we’re trying to create.

Face your fear

If you are a leader in your company, I want to challenge you to take two consecutive weeks of vacation at least once a year. It won’t be easy, and that’s precisely why you should. One week off is good for you, but you won’t have to really confront your fear of being gone until week two. That is the magic week, the week where the lost you, the you aside from work, begins to emerge.

We forget who we are when we’re not busy all the time. We define our identities by our work. And we need to be reminded that there is life outside of that. Simply put, we need to learn to let go.

As the years of my life have progressed, as I watched my kids grow older, as the cumulative stress of increased expectations led to more and more anxiety, I came to see my attitude about time off for what it is: unhealthy, unsustainable and entirely based on fear. Those of you who can relate to that, take it from me, you don’t have to live that way. And the people around you don’t want to either. Be a voice for health and happiness in your workplace. Don’t give in to fear. Use your time off.

I’d love to hear about your experiences trying to unplug from work. If you need support or help devising strategies to confront this issue in your life or company, please feel free to contact me.

Under the leadership of Daniel Flowers, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank received Feeding America’s 2012 Food Bank of the Year award, the highest recognition achievable by food banks.