Need better vacation boundaries? Visit our (National) Parks!
A few months ago I decided to visit the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, for a whopping 5 days (too long apparently, for many-a-client). On day 1, I got nearly a 1/2 dozen emails that began with “I know you’re on vacation, but…” with requests for things that were clearly not urgent. A small handful took it a step further and sent me a text message to follow up on their emails, with the expectation of a quick response (because the autoresponder they got signaled that hearing back via email may in fact take some time).
The beauty of being in the wilderness is that, well, cell coverage is pretty spotty — to nonexistent. I didn’t get all/most of these messages until 8pm every evening.
And as it turns out, all but one of these requests was far from urgent.
So when I returned (see views above, far more enjoyable without the pressure of responding to emails in 5 min or less), I made another vacation plan to be out in the wilderness, this time a bit more local but isolated nonetheless.
Why the parks? Study after study shows that being in nature helps reduce stress, and heal our bodies. Here’s one from Yale and another published in Nature. But the real reason I escape out to national and state parks— they are one of the few places where you get little to no cell phone reception. People can’t reach you. Text messages and emails are suspended in the ether while you hike, paddle, gaze out into the wilderness, photograph bison herds, and eat your 10th Cliff Bar (or RxBar, or really any meal supplement procured at REI).
As a small business owner solely responsible for making payroll each month, it is hard to step away from work. But the anxiety of stepping away from “work” is only temporarily debilitating. On day #1 and maybe even day #2, but on your 3rd day of traversing beautiful and wild places, stress and anxiety will melt away. You might even find yourself putting your phone in airplane mode to save battery to take one-more-photo of a deer off in a distance (that you won’t be able to spot later, even in your own photos).
Now some of you might be thinking, “but I don’t have a way to escape into the wilderness”. Maybe you don’t have a car or gear, or both. You may not have able-body privilege. You may live in a place without easy access to green spaces. Or you may prefer the beach, a staycation or visiting family.
Benefits of nature aside, we all have different ways to relax, and escaping into the wilderness or no-cell zones shouldn’t be the only way to escape work. You shouldn’t have to drive into the heart of Glacier National Forest or hike down to a dead zone at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, in order to take time off.
Not allowing people to take time off is workplace abuse. Not allowing people to rest is abuse, pushing people towards burnout is abuse, making people feel guilty for taking time off, is abuse. It’s a brand of cruelty that is uniquely American (umair haque on Why America is the World’s Most Uniquely Cruel Society).
Contrary to American workplace beliefs about vacation, the fact remains that vacations are ultimately good for business. When people are allowed and encouraged to take time off, there is a noticeable decrease in turnover and replacement cost (because replacing people is actually very expensive), health care costs (no brainer really), and greater innovation (ummm, we need rest to mulch on ideas that make the world better). It’s also just the right thing to do.
In too many organizations (I’m not talking about healthcare workers or other professions that truly require a sense of urgency), there’s an ongoing and false sense of urgency to work long hours, through the weekends, and on vacation.
We’ve lived through a collective experience of compounding trauma for 18 months.
Let people take their vacation.