Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are you taking enough vacation?

Post 325 - In thinking about learning, I believe one of the things we haven't learned much about recently is leisure and balance in life. Work is such a predominant obsession in American society, especially with the present state of the economy, that those who have jobs often don't have energy or appetite for much else at the end of the day. As for vacation, that's a luxury that's often forgone as well.

American’s failed to take 438-million vacation days in 2007 according to Harris Interactive research group. That's more than any other industrialized nation. As a result, America ranks #1 in depression and mental health problems. Americans are experiencing burnout, reduced productivity, diminished creativity, failed relationships, stress or stress-related ailments such as depression, heart disease or stomach ulcers today in record numbers.

"What we measure affects what we do," says Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. "If we have the wrong measures, we will strive for the wrong things." Happiness, long holidays and a sense of well-being may not be everyone’s yardstick for economic performance, but Nicolas Sarkozy believes they should be embraced by the world in a national accounting overhaul. Sarkozy, the president of France, has suggested gauges of economic health that include personal well-being in addition to GDP. Measures could include:
* Employment levels
* Health care
* Vacation
* Household assets and income
* Consumption
* Education
Mr. Sarkozy said he would urge other world leaders, many of whom are gathering at the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh toward the end of the month, to adopt new indicators as well.

I remember being shocked when I first came to America in the 1960s and had to give up the six-weeks vacation I was used to in Europe for a one-week first year policy here. However, much has changed since then. Netflix’s awesome vacation policy (basically, the policy is to take the time you think you need), is based on a belief in freedom and responsibility, not rules. At Netflix, there's no limit on vacation because all the company cares about is what people accomplish - not how. Similarly, its travel expense policy is "travel as you would on your own nickel." That's it. No soul-sapping policy manuals. In its first five years as public company, as the business has grown from $100m to over $1 billion in revenue, this commitment to freedom and responsibility has continued to grow. Netflix states, "We've found that by avoiding rules we can better attract the creative mavericks that drive innovation, and our business is all about innovation. We're mitigating the big risk technology companies face (obsolescence), by taking on small risks (running without rules)."

For more information, look up http://www.netflix.com/Jobs (see presentation).

Another company with a progressive vacation policy is Estalea, an innovative entrepreneurial company based in Santa Barbara that's creating a network of new internet businesses. Estalea, maybe because the founders are originally from Norway and have a European perspective on these things, provides a total of 40-days paid time off each year, together with a variety of other benefits.

I believe Francis Quarles, a 17th century English poet, reflected some of my own philosophy when he said, “Put off thy cares with thy clothes; so shall thy rest strengthen thy labor, and so thy labor sweeten thy rest.”

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