Celebrating the Best Day of the Year

Today is my birthday.

Years ago, I vowed that I’d never work on my birthday when I was my own boss. (This is the only writing I’m doing today before signing off to enjoy life.) I’m a firm believer that our birthdays should be personal holidays.

The irony, of course, is that most of us would probably decide not to take it.

In 2017, fewer than half of Americans used the full number of vacation days they were given. More than 28 million Americans don’t receive paid vacation or holidays (we’re one of only 13 countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee time off). In most countries, people are mandated to take at least some time off.

It makes sense, right? We need rest. Olympic athletes take at least a month off every year from training. And that doesn’t include their active rest days, when they ease back to give their bodies time to recover.

The question of rest and time off is a question of what we value.

What do you value in your organization and as a leader? Do you wear long days as a badge of honor, staying in the office late and rescheduling personal plans to put out work fires? Does your office culture encourage talking behind people’s backs when they take sick or vacation days? Or do you make time for fun and play, rest and self-care — not because you’re “supposed to” but because they’re important to you?

If you need a business reason to take another look at time off, here is one. More than 94% of vacations create improved energy and outlook upon returning, according to HBR. And Sibson Consulting has shown that companies that encourage time away from the office have higher employee engagement levels, lower turnover, less stress-related illness and fewer workers’ comp claims.

Just beware: when looking up the impact of vacation days on businesses, about half of the first page of Google results talk about the costs to employees of vacation days. We’re still fighting a culture of shortsighted spreadsheet thinking. But the companies that win are those that understand the big picture.

You don’t have to give birthdays off every year. Find a policy that works for your values. And pay attention to what you’re modeling as a leader, what you’re demonstrating is important in your organization. It speaks volumes and everyone is listening.