An inside look at what happened when I finally took a vacation (for realsies)
I’ve got a confession: I’m terrible at relaxing. In fact, one of my college entrance essays centered around the fact that I have a hard time sitting still. And I once had a roommate look at me and ask, “Do you ever just sit down and do nothing?!” Sure, sometimes I sit to watch Netflix and Hulu, but I’m usually folding clothes or thinking about next week’s carpool schedule for my kids at the same time.
Let’s just say I’m grateful I discovered the many benefits of yoga years ago.
But this blog post isn’t about my struggle with knowing how and when to slow down. It’s about what happened when I finally took a real vacation — one that involved me and my family with zero cell phone or internet services for a whole seven days.
Our view on vacays
At Expel, we believe in the importance of taking vacation. It’s so important to us that we’ve included it in our Palimpsest (no, we didn’t make up a word) — it’s a document our executive team developed together, and it outlines what we value about our culture and describes the way we want to work with each other. Among many other attributes we value here, our Palimpsest makes it clear that all employees should feel not just comfortable but encouraged to take the vacation time they need.
But here’s the thing: Words are just words — in a Palimpsest or anywhere else — unless what you do aligns with what you say (and what you tell everyone else). The TL;DR is this: If I want other people on my team to take real vacations where they truly unplug and stop worrying about whatever’s happening back at the office, then I’ve got to do the same. There’s nothing worse than the leader who wants people to do as they say and not as they do.
So earlier this summer, I boarded a cruise ship in Galveston, Texas to spend a week in Cozumel, Costa Maya and Roatan with my extended family. I purposely didn’t buy an international phone plan for the trip. And when someone asked if I wanted (outrageously priced) internet access on the ship — I declined. I declined! That meant no email, Slack, LinkedIn or Instagram for the entire vacation.
The seven (not-so-obvious) things I learned from my time away
There are plenty of things that happened on my vacation that anyone could’ve predicted — all the stuff that’s already been well-documented across the interwebs. Without emails and text messages and meeting invites to distract me, I focused on the people around me and got to appreciate the beauty of the ocean. I read the book Where the Crawdads Sing, practiced yoga and made a conscious decision not to worry about anything happening off the ship. I returned from my trip not just with a little more sun, but also some new perspectives — including why it’s so important for execs to step away and take a real vacation.
- If you take real vacations, so will your team. A “real vacation” is one when you take multiple days away and you truly disconnect from the office. This doesn’t mean you have to go anywhere exotic or fancy — staycations work too. For this particular vacation, I was gone for one week but others at Expel are committed to taking vacations that are at least two weeks. As our head of user experience, Kim Bieler, once explained to me, two weeks is a proper vacation and a game-changer for your well being. Whatever length of time you choose to take, be sure to talk about your vacations and share pictures and stories. Talking about it is another signal to your team that it’s healthy and encouraged to take that break and unplug.
- Your team gets more opportunities to shine. While I was out, my team members stepped up and into work they don’t normally do on a day-to-day basis. This was a great experience for them, both in stretching their own capabilities and determining if this new work is something they want to continue to do in the future. It also gave them more of an appreciation for and a front-row seat to what I manage on a day-to-day basis.
- You discover what you should’ve been delegating all along. If your team can do it while you’re out, they can do it when you get back. And handing the reins to your team frees you up to focus on new things. If you’re scared that delegating some of the things you normally do makes you replaceable, you’re right — but I prefer to think about this concept in a different way. If someone else in my org can step up and take on some of the programs and tasks I used to be responsible for, that means I’ve built a great and capable team. And that’s a wonderful thing for your business, your employees and you.
- You discover where you’ve got process gaps. We’ve hired lots of new Expletives lately, which means my team has only been working together for a few months. Stepping away showed me where we needed to improve our processes and better share information. For example we encourage everyone to attend at least one conference a year and we budget $2,500 per person for this experience. While I was out, my team raised some good questions on how to best use this benefit, which prompted us to write some additional guidance for our employees.
- Your team has more opportunities to build relationships. While I was cruising, the people on my team connected directly and more often with our exec team. I try to encourage those connections while I’m in the office, but removing myself from the equation helped this happen even more naturally while I was out.
- You’re reminded there are more ways than your way to get work done. I know it sounds obvious, but seeing work get done differently is good for so many reasons. One of my favorite parts of my job is coaching managers and helping them think differently about ways to grow and support the people on their teams. During these conversations I draw upon my experience and the techniques I’ve developed over time, in the same way others on my team draw upon their own unique experiences. This means that the same conversation can have different outcomes based on the questions asked and guidance provided. Usually in these situations there isn’t one right way, but many ways to get to an outcome. I enjoyed returning from vacation and learning from the coaching provided during my absence.
- You realize why it’s so important to communicate to your team the difference between a vacation and trip. Many of us blend work and personal time when we go away. I take these kinds of “blended” trips when I visit California. I get the chance to spend time with my family and friends while still staying connected to the office to get work done. I don’t consider these trips to be vacations, but if you look at this travel from the lens of a traditional PTO policy, it’d require vacation hours. If you work at a company with a flexible time off policy, the lines start to blur so it’s important to communicate in advance the type of away time you’re taking. If the travel is for a trip, then fine — define your rules. If the travel is for a vacation — then be clear that you’ll be disconnecting in order to protect your time away.
Moral of the story: If you come work at Expel, we want you to take a vacation. For realsies. And if you choose not to come work with us, I hope I’ve at least encouraged you to spend a few days fully disconnected. Do it for your own sanity and the development of your team.
Now … off to get my Vinyasa on.