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Have a wonderful vacation — or else

Published: Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 10:58 a.m. CST

I don’t believe it! Summer is almost over and you haven’t taken your vacation yet. And I’m not talking about your 2014 vacation. I’m talking 2013. And 2012. Heck, you’ve still got unused vacation days from 1956!

You may be crazy, but you are not alone. According to a survey by the job and career site Glassdoor, The Wall Street Journal’s ace workplace reporter, Sue Shellenbarger, reports that “15 percent of U.S. employees who are entitled to paid vacation time haven’t used any of it in the past year.”

This is risky business. For the business and for the stay-at-homes. As Shellenbarger points out, “The ill effects of refusing to go on vacation, documented in research, include fatigue, poor morale, heart problems and reduced productivity.” Who cares if the research was done by the Disneyland marketing department. Not taking a vacation can be hazardous to your health.

On the other hand, taking a vacation can be hazardous to your career. In yet another survey — and clearly, people who work for survey firms never ever take vacations — “Oxford Economics, a forecasting and consulting firm, found some 13 percent of managers are less likely to promote employees who take all their vacation time.”

Not everyone is afraid oflosing their job before they can lose their tan. It’s wonderful to go frolicking in the mountains, but it’s a lot less wonderful when you come back to a mountain of work. Maybe that’s why a Dutch study published in 2012 in the Journal of Happiness Studies showed that “a person’s sense of health and well-being rises during a vacation of two weeks or more but quickly sinks to pre-vacation levels in the first week back on the job.” And you can turn that first week back into the first day back, if one of your hostile co-workers, stuck with doing your job while you away, fills your wooden shoes with yoghurt.

Beyond the practical reasons for choosing a full desktop over a scenic mountaintop are psychological quirks. Like the feeling that “working nonstop is a way some people build self-esteem.” Personally, I’d rather build sandcastles, but we all have work-mates who brag about the years that have passed since they last took their nose off the grindstone.We have a name for these people. We call them supervisors.

Other people suffer from what Bart Lorang, chief executive of Denver-based FullContact, calls the “misguided hero syndrome.” These folks honestly believe that without them, nothing works. “It’s almost like you have this adrenaline rush,” Lorang says, “brought on by the fact that people need you 24/7.”

For my money, this is kind of thinking is not only foolish, it is virtually career suicide. If you are always at work, you don’t become essential; you become invisible. In good times, you’re there. In bad times, you’re there. In the end, your only a achievement is that you go from being an office worker to being office furniture.

But if you go away, and you go for a really long time, and your fellow workers and supervisors prove to be just as dim-witted as you suspect, you have a very good chance of being AWOL when something really bad happens. And then you will not only be noticed; you will be missed.

As the country song goes, “How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go Away?”

If Sue Shellenbarger and I can’t convince you to take as many big whopping vacations as possible, there is still hope. Certain enlightened firms are changing their vacation policies. To demonstrate their belief in their importance of taking vacations, the management of technology giant, Evernote, removed all limits on vacations. You could take that as a testament to the generosity of spirit of an enlightened management. Or you could take it as a sneaky management ploy to trap feckless employees into demonstrating just how easily the company could do without their efforts.

Naturally, the Evernote employees, not exactly dumb, chose Door No. 2, and stopped taking vacations altogether. Finally, the company had to provide $1000 awards to each employee who agreed to take off their pocket protector and put on a Speedo.

Another tech company, HubSpot, has taken get-out-of-town fever a step further by making two-week paid vacations mandatory. You can just hear the HR VP deliver a scathing annual review to a hard-working employee.

“Sorry, Johnson, we’re going to have to let you go. You’re dynamite at your job, but you totally stink at taking vacation.”

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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