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A Rant on PTO: The Time to Unplug

January 21, 2014
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This rant is about something near and dear to all of us: I’m talking about down-time. Vacations should be your time – a treasured block of non-working days (or hours) just for you and yours. A time to simply enjoy life by doing whatever you want to do - travel, sleep late, visiting with family or just spending time with those around you who make a difference in your life. After all, you already give approximately 2,000 hours each year to your employer after deducting holidays and a few sick days. A week off and a measly 40 hours is not much to ask for a needed battery recharge, right? One would think you could take a week or two off and completely shut down.


With modern day technology, increased cell coverage and widespread WIFI availability, more and more employers expect you to be wired while you are on vacation. I’ve experienced it myself and will stand at the front of the line to be the first to tell you that I think it’s wrong to ask a valued employee to take phone calls and respond to emails while they are vacation. Normally it takes me 3-4 days to even begin to decompress but each time I receive a business phone call or an urgent e-mail that clock would start all over and it would take another 3-4 days to unwind. If you are being asked to be on a conference call while you are on vacation I have one question: Why are you on vacation? Why not just be available 24/7 and forget about personal time off?

This past year I decided to take a sabbatical and simply unwind. I took 6 weeks off and did nothing, and it was great. It’s not without challenges because eventually I had to go back to work and there was plenty to do when I returned - but because I own my own business I was able to draw the line on what I would consider true work/life balance. I can’t take a sabbatical every year, but my time off last summer made me pause and realize just how precious life really is. We all should get to choose how to spend the one of the most valuable commodities in life - and that is time. This commodity vanishes when it’s gone, and you can’t get it back.

The next time you record your vacation voicemail and write your out-of-office Outlook reply be real. If you say you are not available – make sure you mean it. If not, try this on for size:

Hi, this is me. I will be out of the office on vacation for the next week with limited access to voicemail and e-mail. However, I am happy to schedule conference calls while I am away as you need me. I will respond to each and every e-mail because I’d prefer to work all of the time. Work is my life (even though technically I am on vacation) so please leave a message and I will call or respond you immediately.”

Take uninterrupted time off and unplug. You deserve the time and you will not be able to get the time back. Ever.