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May 23, 2007
Vacation Anxiety

I just heard a report on the radio about how America’s workforce is filling with stress, even on vacation. Of course we are—so what? That was my initial reaction. Then I went back to following up to the countless emails that were sent between midnight and 5am: my 5 precious hours of being offline last night.

We’re about to officially start Summer Vacation Season. It’s the time when the privileged few get to take off a week or (horrors) two. You can tell when vacation time comes because it takes a day longer to get message responses. “I am sorry, but I was out of town, so it took me a little longer to get back to you.” Come on. It isn’t a curse to be on vacation. Just admit it. In fact, it is your right. Look it up in your HR manual. I know it’s there.

So, why do we all feel we can’t actually take some time to really get away from work? When we finally get that break, either alone or with the family, why must we constantly say, “Give me a minute, I just need to call in / check messages / remind them / (on and on)…” Doing this will induce stress. Stress? That’s for whiners. Really? Come on, be honest, there is S-T-R-E-S-S ! ! It’s everywhere, and it’s in you. That is THE reason we have those things called vacations.

VA•CA•TION -- noun. 1. A period of time devoted to pleasure, rest, or relaxation, especially one with pay granted to an employee. 2. A period in which activity or work is suspended.

Why do you feel you can’t really take a vacation? You work your butt off all year. You are accomplishing your goals. You are respected and valued. You are perfect. (Okay, but do you think your vacation time will make up for the gaps in your capabilities?) And everyone deserves the time to “be." That’s it, just be. We work for a life. It’s not worth living if we can’t allow ourselves to enjoy it.

As an advertising executive, career-building is a hard endeavor. The endless hours and anxiety-filled years you devote to moving up takes its toll in many ways. It’s a never-ending battle. But, you have some respite, and that’s in the form of vacations. No one was built to run 24/7/365. So, a little periodic maintenance is essential. It’s a mental oil-change…or a re-calibration.

As a manager, you must decide if you are a power-hungry dictator, or a true leader. Have you created a stable of minions, or have you built a “team?" A leader grows the business through supporting, training, and coaching to bring out the best in everyone. You trust that decisions will be made with the best of intent and skill, because you did your job properly. So, you let them do their jobs.

Gone are the days when the real big shots sit by the pool with a cell phone attached to their ears. Today, it’s usually the people who can’t seem to let go, or they are teenagers trying to … well, whatever they do on the phone all day long. The real leaders know differently. They have comfort in knowing the job is being done back in the office. And they want their people to experience the same—to do nothing but hold a cold beverage—when their too-rare chance has come.

It took me many years to learn how important it is to take time to rejuvenate. As an agency owner, and now a consultant in the industry, I have seen first-hand how the effects of letting go for a few days can pay dividends to the individual as well as the company.

If you really feel the need to do some work while on vacation, do some research. Study what it feels like to be human. Experience that odd feeling. You can’t claim it as billable time, but it is research. Remember, communication happens between humans. So, maybe you should capture what it's like to be one, for your next assignment.

Now, get out of here and ENJOY some of your summer!

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Peter Gerritsen is a principal with A-Team Advisors, a multidisciplinary consulting practice, with expertise in marketer-agency relationships, agency management, and finance. A-Team serves clients on a national and international basis from its New York, Boston, and San Francisco offices. Prior to A-Team, Pete co-founded and was a partner with New England advertising agency Allen & Gerritsen.

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