The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is typically when many of us take vacation time. It’s good to get away from work to spend time with family and friends and wrap up the year, just as summertime can be an ideal time to go on a trip far from the office.
The need to unplug applies to everyone, including CEOs. Though their responsibilities may be massive, the benefits of taking time off are too great to ignore — even if they fall into the workaholic category.
Here’s a look at why CEOs need to take advantage of time off, whether it’s during the holiday season, the summer months or sporadically throughout the year.
CEOs can’t afford to feel burned out at the office. There is too much at stake, and too many people are counting on them. Time off can be an effective way to prevent feelings of being overwhelmed, and lacking the energy to get past those feelings. Joe Robinson writes about this for Entrepreneur.
“Continuous time on-task sets off strain reactions, such as stress, fatigue and negative mood, which drain focus and physical and emotional resources,” he explains. “The brain’s ability to self-regulate — to stay disciplined — wanes with each exercise of self-control during the day. It’s a loss of resources that must be replenished, or it becomes harder to stay on-task, be attentive and solve problems.”
Robinson features Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University, in his story: “There is a lot of research that says we have a limited pool of cognitive resources,” Gabriel says. “When you are constantly draining your resources, you are not being as productive as you can be. If you get depleted, we see performance decline. You’re able to persist less and have trouble solving tasks.”
It helps creativity
Here’s a big benefit of stepping away from the day-to-day. Escaping the stress can be liberating (assuming, of course, the duties are being capably handled by others in a CEO’s absence). Having relaxing moments or adventurous ones can serve business leaders well upon their return, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes for Harvard Business Review.
“Is there a connection between vacations and creativity, vacations and health? I think so,” she says. “Pauses refresh. Everyone needs downtime to renew, re-energize, and re-bond with family. Time away while accumulating new experiences can stimulate imagination and support innovation. In short, making the link between time off and time on can be broadly beneficial.”
In addition to the creativity that time off can inspire, it can also help a CEO’s perspective. Jim Moffatt, CEO of Deloitte Consulting, includes this concept in a story for Forbes. He writes about how he once presented time off to his employees, and the advice he got from a business partner, including: “If you really unplug, you will start thinking about the long term, strategic issues, and what we have to do to be successful over the 9-to-24-month period, and that is essential.”
“This got my attention,” Moffatt writes. “A true leader steps back, trusts his or her people, and allows them to succeed. By taking a break from the day-to-day operations, not only was I spending some much-needed time with my family, but also I was able to focus on the bigger picture of where we were and where our business was heading. I’ve tried to follow this advice in my own life ever since.”
It allows a break from technology
Our constantly plugged-in way of life doesn’t lend itself to breaking away from the stresses of the office. Sure, it’s simple to check email just by tapping a smartphone button, yet it brings you right back into work mode, eliminating the possibility of maximizing time off. In Moffatt’s story for Forbes, he stresses the need to get away from all this, saying, “If your business can’t survive your vacation, you’ve got a bigger problem.”
“That’s why I now view the vacation as more than a pause,” he explains. “It’s a test. Not just of the leader’s ability to take a long break from email. … I want to see what happens to the organization when leaders go away for a few days. … Tuck away your mobile devices and let your teams run without you. You’ll be amazed at what you can do when you’re unplugged — and what your people have accomplished when you plug back in. I can personally attest, you’ll be a more confident and better leader because of it.”
Timing is crucial
It would be questionable for CEOs to take off on a weeklong trip during a particularly busy season, or during times of tension or conflict. That may limit them somewhat in when they can take vacation, but also help to avoid disaster while they’re away. And there’s nothing that can ruin the good vibes of a vacation like frantic calls from the office. As Moss Kanter writes, “Is this the right moment to be away from the nerve center?”
“Even if a vacation is a very good thing, adjusting the timing increases responsiveness at critical moments and shows that leaders are aware and alert,” she says. “Sacrificing a few days of vacation when crises loom is a gesture that shows that leaders can be trusted to take their responsibilities seriously.”
The change of pace is important
If a CEO treats a vacation as the equivalent of a weekend — filled with errands, home duties, checking in via email or going into the office for a few hours — the ideal level of relaxation is not going to happen. There should be a change of pace, and there should be fun involved with that, according to Virgin founder Richard Branson, as reported by Inc.com.
“Maintaining focus on having fun isn’t just about rest and recuperation,” Branson says. “When you go on vacation, your routine is interrupted; the places you go and the new people you meet can inspire you in unexpected ways. As an entrepreneur or business leader, if you didn’t come back from your vacation with some ideas about how to shake things up, it’s time to consider making some changes. … Freed from the daily stresses of my working life, I find that I am more likely to have new insights into old problems and other flashes of inspiration.”
One more time: Put the phone down
As mentioned by Moffatt, getting away from the email and phone calls is crucial. PayPal chairman John Donahoe echoes those sentiments in a story for LinkedIn, and notes that it’s not a comfortable feeling in the early stages. But he takes it a step further with how he enforces it.
“This summer, I’ll be heading to the same Cape Cod beach house I’ve been staying at with my family for the past 28 years,” he writes. “My kids hate the house for the same reason I love it: it has a rotary phone, the cell phone service stinks and the closest Internet hub is two miles away at the local library. … I admit that the process of cutting off from email and the internet is frequently stressful in the beginning, but it quickly becomes a very liberating experience. Without a constant barrage of work issues to respond to, I find that my mind calms down and my intuition begins to come alive. I am able to see things through a more creative lens and new ideas often emerge from my time off.”
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