Saturday, June 4, 2011

Because there is more to life than just work: Vacations are good for you

I learned an important lesson early in my career. Mike, my sales manager, told me that vacations are important.  I did not believe him. It is counterintuitive that taking time off could increase your output and income. There are only so many hours in a day and the more of them that you use for work, the more successful you will be. That just makes sense doesn’t it?

Yes and no. All other things being equal, the more hours you work, the more you will produce. Checking your Facebook page when you should be working on a project will make you less productive. However, all other things are not equal, and production can be difficult to measure. I am a CPA, and in the simplest terms, I work (and bill) by time. Like many professionals, my productivity can be measured in terms of billable hours. Measuring my productivity becomes a little more complex when looking at the bigger picture. Consider the things that I do that are not billable. I study to keep abreast of changing regulations and to increase my knowledge. I take time to listen to my clients express their concerns in ways that may not relate directly to the work I do for them.  I am an active participant in my professional association. None of these things add to the bottom line. However, they do make me a better accountant, and they help me do a better job for my clients. In the long run, this will increase my value to my clients and to my firm.
What about vacations though? Can they improve productivity? If you take time off from work, will you actually be better at work? My sales manager thought so, and he was the kind of person that thought that a 60 hour work week was taking it easy.
In college, I raced bicycles. We rode our bikes every day, and we pushed ourselves. I was always tired. One of the people I rode with was an incredible athlete, and she was invited to the Olympic Training Center.  When she returned from the OTC, she shared her new training “secret.” It was simply that to be a better athlete, work harder. In order to work harder when you work, rest! We started taking rest days, and we began alternating hard riding days with easier days. The result was that I could ride faster and further.
This same concept applies to work. Time away from work gives you the opportunity to refresh your mind and body. It does not matter what you do for vacation. Whether you were sipping umbrella drinks on a beach, climbing a mountain, canoeing in the wilderness, visiting family, or simply staying home and hanging out around the house, when you return to work, it will seem easier, and you will be a better worker.
Does this seem too good to be true? Consider the French. With short work weeks and a lot of vacation, the French are often derided unproductive, and whenever the French economy slows, many people are quick to say that the French should work more. However, a 2004 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research pointed out:

Over the past 30 years, productivity growth has been higher in France than in the United States. Moreover, productivity levels are about the same between the two countries . . .  France's GDP per person stands at 71 percent of GDP per person in the United States, largely due to the French working two-thirds as many hours as their American counterparts.

That suggests that the French produce nearly three-quarters of the output of the US even though they only put in two-thirds of the work. Part of the difference is that the French assign a higher value to leisure while Americans assign a higher value to income.
Do you encourage your employees to take time off to refresh? Are you planning a vacation this year?

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