Vacation: Donít waste it on work

   As the saying goes, "Life is short, death is long." Thatís probably the main reason Iím such a big fan of vacations.
   For example, Iíve always admired the French, who basically shut down their country for the month of August. Everyone who does not directly cater to the tourist industry takes the month off and heads somewhere, anywhere.
   And then thereís my previously uptight American friend, Brad, who gave up a career in banking to become a junior high school teacher.
   "There are three reasons I went into teaching," he says when asked why he chose such a noble and rewarding profession. "Number one Ė June, Number two Ė July, and Number three Ė August."
   Not terribly diplomatic, but it makes some sense.
   Yet there are those who donít cherish vacation time. There are people out there, the classic workaholics, who have trouble relaxing. Theyíre always itching to get back into the fray. They need to accomplish something, generate income, maintain their daily routine.
   I had that problem once. I couldnít understand how everyone could just pick up and leave. It was very frustrating and irritating. But I couldnítí complain too much Ė I had been warned not to visit Paris in August.
   No. I am a true believer in vacations. And not just for me. Although I manage to squeeze in my fair share of time off work, I also have maintained a policy over the years of awarding ample vacation time to all the employees of my company.
   After one year of continuous employment, two weeks of vacation is earned. After two years, an employee gets three weeks. And after only five short, wonderful years with the company, employees received four weeks of vacation.
   I wrote that policy 12 years ago when I first started out in business. How was I to know so many people would stick around for five years or more?
   But that was the point. In any business, employee turnover is one of the major headaches and one of the major expenses. The costs and risks of hiring new employees and training them can be monumental.
   If you can hold on to good employees and create a stable environment, a good part of the battle will be won. And three or four weeks of paid vacation is not something that is easily relinquished by an employee considering a change.
   But thatís only half the reason I have such a liberal vacation policy. I simply believe that one or two weeks a year is not enough time away from the workplace. Work 51 weeks, get one week off? That has never quite washed with me.
   Unfortunately, everyone knows that liberalism costs money. Many businesses canít afford to be generous with vacation time, especially when the vacationing employee needs to be replaced while absent.
   I was reminded of that point the other day when Phil, my longtime warehouse manager, asked to see me.
   It seemed, unbeknownst to me, that Phil had been remiss on taking advantage of his generous allotment of vacation days. He had taken a week here, a week there, but no major time off in the last few years.
   As a result, Phil was delighted to report to me that he had 47 vacation days due him.
   "47 days!" I cried. "Thatís over nine weeks! What have you been doing?"
   "Working," he replied in a very un-French-like tone. "I canít afford to go anywhere. Can I cash in some of my vacation pay instead of taking the time off?"
   "Phil," I said, "that is not the idea of the generous vacation policy. Youíre supposed to relax, take time off, enjoy life."
   "I would if I had some money."
   He had a point. One way or another, everything evens out. The money used to cover the cost of vacationing employees has to come from somewhere. Unfortunately for my merry vacationers itís reflected in their wages.
   "Ok," I said. "I donít like doing this, but I also donít like the idea of you leaving for nine weeks. Iíll pay you four weeks of vacation in cash, leaving you five weeks to relax. Now, where are you going to go?"
   "Nowhere. Iím going to fix my car." Oh, well. Obviously, Phil was going to keep racking those days up. Maybe in time Iíll be able to convince him of the value of actually taking a vacation. And if all else fails, I suppose I could resort to a "use it or lose it" policy. It certainly has worked for me.



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