I beg your indulgence. I will get to the vacation thing, but first, a few other thoughts to put this all in context.
Pundits tell us, I think correctly, that to be great leaders, we need to build a safe environment for our people. That means that everyone is treated with dignity and respect even when they make mistakes — as they inevitably will be. People also tell us that we cannot tolerate bullying, harassment, or bigotry in the workplace. They tell us heartless, compassion-less business folks that it is best for our bottom line — since “we” often demonstrate that is all we care about most.
We know that trust (trust between humans means that I get that you authentically have my best interests at heart, not just your own.) is critical for teamwork, collaboration, and safe environments. Trust is also essential for any significant business transaction.
Values and Purpose
We know from all the latest studies and surveys that to achieve higher employee engagement levels — and thus a high performing organization — we need to make sure that employees have autonomy, mastery, and purpose — one that is greater than profitability.
I believe and hope that you see that there are generally two types of companies — an MBA company and a Relationship company. The MBA company is focused on hitting the financial metrics and is generally interested in short-term goals. They tolerate people as a necessary evil toward achieving the goals. The Relationship company is mostly concerned
with the people in the organization. It considers having to make financial metrics as a necessary evil for keeping the organization healthy to support their people — who are like family. They are generally long-term focused.
That brings me to the vacation thing. The MBA company has read about the studies saying that employees are more productive if they get time off to relax and “re-charge.” So they are interested in people taking vacations for purposes of the metrics — improved productivity and getting liabilities (accruing vacation benefit costs) off the balance sheet. The Relationship company is of a mind that people work to support their families and fund vacations where they can spend some extended time with their loved ones. Any benefits to the organization derived from a re-charged and relaxed employee are secondary, though welcome.
The sad thing is that often employees themselves forget the purpose of the vacation. They don’t leave work and make sure they are fully present for their loved ones and themselves. They stay connected through technology and never really are away from the business. In this case, no one benefits — not the employee, family, or business. The age-old question arises once again: Do you live to work, or do you work so that you can live?
It seems clear to me that when a company turns into an MBA company (where the “reason for being” is to make the numbers), the decisions, ethics, and longevity of that company are in jeopardy. The vacation issue is but one of many indications that a company’s leadership focuses on the wrong things.
Intention matters; it is critical. If we intend to use people to make the numbers, we ask people to live to work. If we intend to put people first and let profits and products or services follow, our organizations will be most happy, healthy, and sustainable.
What if we all converted our companies to B-Corps (Benefit Corporations)? And, what if our company’s charter had a stated goal of benefiting society in some measurable way? What if we had a purpose greater than profit for our organization?
What are your true intentions when you encourage employees to take their earned vacation? Are you walking the talk?
[Updated 9/16/2017 and Lightly edited in 9/2020 for our new website.]