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  • Writer's pictureGrace Simpson


We all know that taking vacation time can be refreshing for the mind and spirit and paid time off is an employment benefit that you are entitled to, so why is it that so many of us feel guilty when taking time off?

Photo at Wahwashkesh Lake, Ontario, Canada by Wendy MacCrimmon of wMacPhotography (she is the best!)

Let's start out with the topic of guilt

If you follow my Instragram (@graceoncareers) you will know that the We Can Do Hard Things podcast by Glennon Doyle, Abby Wambach and Amanda Doyle is one of my favourites. Those ladies are just so authentic and bring up topics that just make so much sense. Anyway, you are probably wondering how this relates to the topic of vacation time? Trust me, I will get there. So, recently the pod-squad (as they say) hosted an episode called How to Get Rid of Half of Your Guilt. And let me just say that this is a must- listen to hour that will seriously transform the way that you reframe how you think about guilt.

In the episode Glennon shares how their resident clinical psychology expert Dr. Becky Kennedy defines guilt. Ok, I am paraphrasing here, but Dr. Becky says that guilt is defined as what happens inside of us when you do something that is not aligned to your values.

Dr. Becky says that guilt is defined as what happens inside of us when you do something that is not aligned to your values

And guess that what means? It means a lot of things that we define as guilt are not actually guilt. So, the dreaded 'mom guilt' when you take a shower, or go out with your girl friends or forget to pack a swim suit for water day at school - probably not guilt because you likely value being clean, getting time to connect with friends and being generous with yourself when you forget something. Basically a lot of things that we think of as guilt probably do not align with this new way of framing. On the flip-side, that icky feeling that masquerades as guilt but we know now is not really guilt - that happens when you do something that aligns to your values but does not align with other people's expectation or view (E.g. cultural pressure, the company's, your peers, your family's) of you. And people are going to be uncomfortable when you uphold your values and your actions differ from their expectations. Try just sitting with that emotion and those feelings because this discomfort does not need to be fix or repaired. Instead Glennon talks about creating resiliency when being loyal to your own values.

Did you know that in the US almost 50% of people do not use all of their vacation time/paid time each year? Personally, I know in the past when I have not used all of my time it is because I have felt 'guilty' - guilty that I had too much work to do and would fall behind, or guilty that I had just returned from maternity leave after having already been off work for a year, or guilty that other people on my team would have to take on my work when they are already at their max. But, taking vacation is an important value to me because I know I am a better mom, wife, employee and person when I have a break from work, have time to fully engage with my family and get out of my day-to-day hectic routine. So, what I am feeling is not guilt in the least. I know that I do feel guilty when I overwork myself and under-prioritize my own well-being and then I am short with my kids or less engaging - because those are not my values.

Ok, so I get that while this may make a whole lot of sense logically, it can still be hard to feel perfectly okay to take all of your vacation time. Changing your mindset on taking time off can be a hard thing to do, but I would encourage you to think about how living your values feels differently than guilt. Take a look below at a few ways you can lean into this new harmony as an employee and as a manager.

If you are an employee...

So, as an employee, here are four things I would encourage you to do consider doing to make your vacation a 'guilt-free' experience.

  • Review your vacation balance! I know your employment contract says something like 4 weeks, but you accumulate vacation typically on a bi-weekly basis and usually in hours not weeks, so you may be surprised about your balance if you took a leave during the year or banked some additional hours on a big project. Your pay cheque is usually the easiest place to find this information!

  • Book time at least one quarter out. Sometimes we are good at booking vacation far into the future (say for Christmas/other holidays) or last minute getaways but we forget to carve out time in between. The benefit of booking time for the next quarter out is that your calendar is pre-blocked (so less meetings to move) and you can plan deliverables for projects or tasks around this date well in advance.

  • Carve out time the day before you go off to tidy up: This is one of my personal best practices! Block at least half of the day before you go on vacation to tidy up those things on your to-do list. For me this often involves those things I keep putting off like filing paperwork or completing online compliance training. You will thank yourself big time for this later. And clean your desk - like declutter and wipe down because coming back to a clean desk is just as nice as coming back to a clean home.

  • Actually be on vacation. I totally get it if it makes you feel better to peek at your email during your vacation so you do not come back to a disaster, but at least turn off your notifications and do not make exceptions for taking meetings or calls. Setting this boundary is important so you can decompress! You all know how I feel abut boundaries from my prior post.

If you are a manager...

Now, as a manager, you can play a big role in supporting your employees to have this so-called 'guilt-free' (but we know now that it is not really 'guilt') vacation. Consider a few things:

  • Set the expectation: No matter the size of your team, make it an expectation for your team to take all of your vacation time every year. Not only is this important from a company perspective because it helps to reduce liability but is also promotes a wonderful culture that prioritizes people as people and overall well being (and that is the type of leader I want to work for). When someone joins your team, share your expectation and ask them to check their paid time off balance. Once a year is not enough for this conversation, so I like to align this reminder with public holidays.

  • Send a clear message about responses: We all know that work continues to happen when someone is out, so people typically expect to come home to a ton of emails, but it really does help if you put in the subject line or first line of the email the action required (E.g. 'for visibility only', 'action required upon return', "FYI - meeting notes'). This helps your employee get back to speed quickly when they return to office and that benefits everyone.

  • Let them miss out: When your employee misses out on a big message, an escalation requiring action or an urgent customer need, consider it a great learning opportunity for someone else. As a manager, when I have taken on this work in the past for someone on my team who is out of office it has given me a new perspective on the important work my team does and how long a task can take. Or when I have assigned the work to a more junior person on the team, that person has surprised me by how they have elevated themselves (or sometimes figured out that they don't want the next job they thought they want).

Now put it into practice!

We are in peek vacation season right now where I live, so I am putting these ideas into practice the best I can in this moment. I must say that with three kids running around the cottage requesting a very high number of freezies, calling 'mom' to show me how they can throw a rock super far, or needing some milk (still breastfeeding!), it feels easier to stay present on vacation than my previous child-free life.

Here is to you taking some well-deserved time off this summer, fall, winter and spring!

As always, if you are looking for support through a challenging talent situation at work and want a fresh perspective or someone to talk to, reach out! I would LOVE to chat! Connect with me here, shoot me a DM on Instagram or check me out on LinkedIn!


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