Balancing act: In summer months, search for vacation balance

Published: Tuesday, June 10 2014 8:00 a.m. MDT

In a new survey, U.S. office workers were asked whether they typically used all of the paid vacation days they were provided by their company. Fifty-eight percent said "yes," while 39 percent said "no." How would you respond?

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At this time of year, my daydreams during work breaks are dominated by a few different topics.

First, I wonder what my just-out-of-school children and wife are doing at home while I'm at the office. (That usually leads to some bitterness and jealousy, so I try not to dwell on such pondering.)

Second, I consider the speed at which our grass is growing and try to figure out how to schedule my yard work in such a way that I mow as few times as possible while not annoying my neighbors by allowing a jungle to grow in my yard.

And, finally, I think about upcoming vacations and calculate how much paid time off I need to cover them while saving PTO for other planned trips later in the year.

In those acts of planning, I'm like many other cubicle dwellers whose thoughts turn to vacation time when the temperatures rise and the days lengthen — including those participating in a new survey from staffing firm Robert Half.

The survey, based on 436 telephone interviews with U.S. adults working in an office environment, asked people whether they typically used all the paid vacation days they were provided by their company. In response, 58 percent said "yes," while 39 percent said "no."

I think I actually fall in both categories. While I do try to save PTO days as much as possible — especially because I want to make sure I have a few available if I get sick — I don't roll a bunch of days over from one year to the next.

In other words, just as I try to build work-life balance, I also try to balance my use of vacation days.

Again, the Robert Half survey shows that many other office workers attempt the same balancing act. When the people who answered "no" to the first question were asked why they didn't use all of their vacation time, 38 percent said they saved time in case they needed it later.

Another 30 percent said they had too much work and didn't want to fall behind. I can relate to that, too. There's nothing worse than spending a vacation thinking about all the work you know is going to be waiting for you when you return. It's almost enough to make me decide not to leave.

Almost.

Another 12 percent said they didn't use all of their PTO because they didn't like to take time off, while 10 percent said they didn't get any vacation time. Three percent said their manager would frown upon them using all of their allotted vacation days.

I feel sorry for the people who said they didn't like to take time off or didn't get any vacation time. I enjoy my job, but I also need to get away from it now and then. Especially after challenging weeks, like some I've had lately, knowing that I will soon have a chance to recharge my batteries with a family road trip helps keep me going from day-to-day.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half, said in a press release about the survey that, whether people are vacation savers or spenders, they need to have balance.

"All work and no play doesn't just lead to burnout — it also erodes creativity, since stepping out of your routine frequently sparks innovation," he said. "Fresh perspective is useful in just about any profession."

McDonald also said in the release that managers should lead by example when it comes to taking vacations.

"Supervisors should encourage their teams to take a break and recharge, especially their top performers, who are often the most aggressive vacation-savers and most susceptible to burnout. The best way to do this is by taking time off yourself," he said.

I try to be a good example in this way, although I probably still spend a little too much time checking work email and virtually peeking in on projects while I'm out of the office. That's one aspect of building work-life balance that I'm still trying to perfect.

The other thing I need to think about as a manager is how to keep my team members motivated and on-task during the summer months when they probably wish they were anywhere but in Cubeville.

Another press release, this one from Robert Half Technology, had a few suggestions to help managers in this regard.

First, the release proposed that organization is one key to success. "With teams often covering responsibilities for vacationing coworkers, it’s important to plan ahead for time off," the release said. "A shared calendar will do the trick. Team members will be able to anticipate the heavier workload and can better manage their time to complete extra projects."

My team started using an online shared calendar a little more than a year ago, and it's been extremely helpful.

The next tip from Robert Half Technology was to "step up communication" during the summer months, especially for employees who work remotely. "In addition to outlining expectations, consider more frequent check-ins; ask for reports highlighting completed tasks and schedule mandatory face-to-face updates, whether virtually or in person," the press release said.

I think managers should always make expectations clear and communication frequent for telecommuters, regardless of the season. But I guess I can see why this would be especially important given summer's more unsettled schedules.

Robert Half Technology also suggests that managers ask workers to "do something different," especially if their teams have slower work days during the summer.

"Encourage employees to use the time to tackle to-do lists, research new projects and brainstorm fresh ideas," the release said. "Hopefully they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and as a result, be more productive."

Finally, the release suggested offering employees a bit more flexibility during the summer — especially on Fridays. "That way, employees can enjoy their weekend a bit early and hopefully return to work feeling recharged."

I think that's a great idea and one that would give a net benefit to both workers, who would be more happy and rested, and the company, which should see an increase in productivity from those smiling, energetic employees.

I'm going to implement some of these suggestions with my team in the months to come, and hopefully they'll lead all of us to a productive and fun summer.

Now if I could only get similar tips for that mowing problem.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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