Taking a vacation has always been a luxury, something I rarely took as I felt it would slow me down and put me behind in my work. However, as I've grown older (wiser) and taken on more responsibilities in my career, I realize vacations are essential to keeping me creative, motivated, and focused.
The result was I changed my reluctance towards a vacation to taking extended vacations for personal creativity and innovation. I started taking time off for as long or as short a period as needed to refresh my mind, allowing it to clear out any clutter and stress so that I could be open to new ideas and approaches to my work. The impact was immediate and profound.
I didn't want to stop there.
When I became CEO of an organization whose sole purpose is to invent and innovate, we implemented unlimited vacations for everyone.
"Unlimited vacation isn't just an employee perk — it's a business strategy."
My Personal Story
For the first 30-plus years of my career, I was that person who always checked email, was on their phone, and was always on the go. There was never a time when I wasn't connected to work. As I took on a more significant role as an innovation leader, I realized how vacations could benefit my creative output.
The human body and creativity cannot operate continuously. We need to rest and give time for the human body to recover before the next task. The same applies to our creativity and ability to innovate. Without it, our creative output suffers significantly. Taking a vacation helps us reset and gives us the mental and physical space to develop fresh ideas. Only when we step away from our work can we gain a broader perspective and find inspiration in new experiences.
People were skeptical when we implemented our unlimited vacation policy five years ago. They felt that more time away from work would mean less productivity, but what we found was quite the opposite. There was also a fear that taking time away would impact their opportunities for career advancement. Not true.
Our organization's creativity and innovative thinking flourished by allowing our team to take a break when they wanted or needed to. We saw an increase in morale as people could spend quality time with family and recharge outside of the office environment. The result was a more productive workforce that could better develop creative solutions and new ideas.
It also established an environment of trust and open communication, ultimately leading to higher productivity and job satisfaction.
Keys to Implementing Unlimited Vacations
When we implemented unlimited vacations, we implemented team-based OKRs (objectives and key results). This aligns with the team's commitment to what they are expected to achieve. This gives the leaders an easy way to communicate vision and plans — and measure performance without micromanaging teams.
This created a culture of trust that allows team members to take time off when they need it and come back refreshed and ready to innovate. We want them to feel comfortable taking the time off they need without worrying about repercussions or missing out on any opportunities.
This requires everyone to be transparent with their teams about their vacation plans and alignment on deliverables. We also ask that each team member communicate their expectations and deadlines with their colleagues while they are away. While someone is away, others take over their deliverables. Going on a vacation and returning to a stack of work is not a vacation.
When you take a vacation, you're expected to disconnect entirely. This means no email, no Slack, and no Zoom. When you're on vacation, focus on being in the moment and enjoying your time off. Disconnecting fully gives you the space to recharge and helps you avoid burnout.
If I find someone on vacation checking their email, slack, or sneaking on to the Zoom calls, I will have IT disconnect their accounts until they are back. And yes, I've done it. This policy has resulted in more "thank you" notes from spouses than anything I've ever done.
Impact of Unlimited Vacations
The impact of unlimited vacations on our organization has been immense. Our team members feel more relaxed and focused when returning from their vacations. They are excited to return to work, with most coming back with ideas for new projects they come up with while sitting with the kids at the pool or on a sunset walk on the beach with their significant other.
This has translated into a more productive and engaged workforce committed to the company's mission. We are seeing increased creativity, innovation, and team collaboration. This has increased the size and quality of our innovation pipeline, expanding our organization's role in creating innovations for our stakeholders.
At the end of the day, unlimited vacation isn't just an employee perk — it's a business strategy. It paved the way for a work-life balance culture, encouraging employees to take a break from work and focus on their personal lives. I have personally experienced how taking vacations has positively impacted my creative output and refreshed my perspective.
So, as I head out on my summer vacation to the northwest with my grandkids, I urge you to prioritize your time off and return to work with renewed energy and maybe some innovative ideas.
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