What happened to vacations?

…I didn’t get the memo…but I know something’s changed When was the last time you took a vacation? I mean a real vacation, where you put aside your work, physically and mentally? Do you recall a time when you were able to unplug from your office, without feeling obligated to check in? A time when you could totally unwind, allowing your mind to rest? Let’s face it folks, in the United States, those vacations are a thing of the past.

We know that time to relax and refresh ourselves is critical to well-being and high performance, yet we continue to downplay the importance of “down time.” We live in the only economically "advanced" country that does not guarantee its workforce vacation time. Britain guarantees 20 days of vacation time, Germany 24, France 30 and Holland 50 days a year for government workers. For one of the richest countries in the world, this discrepancy is staggering. Yet, because it is “just vacation,” we treat it as a trivial matter to be ignored or brushed off.

As companies grow, so does the workplace culture that rewards individuals who continually work without taking time off, do not unplug when they get home and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Profit or productivity may play a part in the development of the “accidental workaholic” as people work more hours not because they want to, but because they feel they have no choice. As companies place more and more value on those who rarely or never take a break, more people see no choice but to allow work to creep into many if not all areas of their lives. The boundaries between work and personal life continue to be blurred, crossed and swiftly eliminated.

While companies play a major role in the elimination of true down time, we as consumers are a contributing force. The U.S. culture relies on the market that is open 24 hours a day and expects businesses to be open every day. We need to have access to everything at all times. Could our culture support a month long shut down the way they do in Europe? Could we accept not having access to the places we shop every day and could they handle the possible financial shortfall?

We are a technologically equipped society in constant contact with many organizations. We can be reached by a multitude of devices. With cell phones, BlackBerry® and the iPhone, we are vibrating and ringing along lake sides, while we are on the water, at dining tables, bed side and even in the bathroom. We can and do conduct business anywhere, anytime and we are suffering from it far more than we realize. The time that is spent working 12-15 hour days and through our weekends, and our activity formerly known as "vacations" is keeping us from fully engaging with our families, our friends and ultimately ourselves.

What is the ultimate price we are paying for eliminating rest — one of our basic survival needs? If we don’t rest, how do we protect our health? Our well-being? Our personal lives? How do we not only maintain business, but also move forward? We are not Energizer Bunnies®, we cannot continue to go on and on without refreshing and replenishing our energies. There is no easy way out of this culture that we have created.

As organizational leaders and team members we are faced with this challenge and we must find a way to incorporate down time into our plans and our lives. We must look at the benefits that well-rested, refreshed members bring to the table. And we must also recognize within ourselves that our goal is not to just survive, but to thrive. In order to do that, unplugging and refreshing are as necessary as the air we breathe and the cell phones that are affixed to our ears.