Culture Says…

Yes, the original statement was “survey says…” from Family Feud. But in your workplace, culture defines acceptable behavior and tells people what is ok or not ok. Is taking a vacation accepted and supported in your culture?

Last week we shared some of the many benefits of taking time away from work to recharge. Some organizations are seeing the necessity of downtime and attempting to ‘force’ employees to use their vacation days, but without addressing the underlying cultural issues this can exacerbate the problem.

Here are five actions that reinforce a culture that values time off to rest and recharge:

  1. Lead by example. 84% of American executives have canceled their vacations in order to work. But as Cornell University Professor Kaitlin Woolley says “If you have a boss who’s never away themselves or never taking the time, that sends a communication throughout the organization about what they value and what’s important. I think that setting those expectations, setting the culture has to come from the top-down. I would want to see people in higher positions allowing that behavior, and showing it, demonstrating it themselves.” Model the behavior you want to see by taking vacations and disengaging from work while you’re away.
  1. Be excited about it! Be unapologetically happy about taking time off. Tell your team how amazing, fun, and relaxing your vacation was. Share photos and tell funny stories, memorable moments, and what you learned. Encourage your people to do the same when they take their vacations. This not only shows your team that you value time off (both yours and theirs) but also builds connections and relationships with them.
  1. Watch your language. Words matter. Challenge the descriptors people use to help with a shift in culture. When “busy” is a badge of pride, people burn out. When Donna was working for Coopers & Lybrand, she witnessed the Quaker State team which had a perverse competition of who could stay out and party the latest while getting into work the earliest. Bragging about long hours reinforces their importance and causes team members to overwork. Regularly emphasize the benefits and importance of rest, disconnecting and taking time to recharge, not reinforcing the “busyness”.
  1. Be intentional. Sometimes people need permission, especially if the culture hasn’t been supportive of time off in the past. After periods of high output (such as at the conclusion of a major project) or intense learning, build in rhythms of taking a few days to process and recharge. A not-for-profit we worked with pushed their people hard during the pandemic. Then they paused and encouraged rest and time to recover. It was essential for the mental well-being of the team.
  1. Don’t “should” on people. Never make a team member feel guilty about taking time off. This starts at the top with leadership. Yes, it can be inconvenient to take on additional responsibilities so a coworker can be away, but if everyone is taking their own time off, they will get their own turn to disconnect and rest.

Take time to disconnect and recharge. Share the benefits with your team. Watch your language and mindset about busyness and time off in your organization. Build a culture that recognizes and reinforces the benefits of rest. Don’t just talk about it, model what you want to see for others.

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