Taking a break from the routine and pressures of work is an essential part of caring for your health. Research indicates that vacations are associated with better physical and mental health, decreased job stress and greater life satisfaction. And all those benefits are bound to make you more productive at work. So, you might be surprised to learn that a large portion of Canadians are not taking advantage of the vacation time to which they are entitled.

According to research published last year in the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), which is generated by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, more than one-third of Canadian employees took less than the minimum amount of federally mandated 10 days of paid vacation in 2009 (the most recent year for which data from Statistics Canada is available). This group includes the almost 20% of employees who took no vacation time whatsoever, according to Margo Hilbrecht, associate director of research who oversees the CIW and one of the authors of the study.

The financial services sector reported one of the better vacation uptake rates. It ranked third, behind utilities and public administration; only 22% of employees reported taking less than 10 days of vacation.

This study looked at paid employees, and did not include financial advisors who run their own practices.

George Hartman, CEO of Market Logics Inc. in Toronto, says independent advisors fit into two camps: those who almost completely deny themselves any vacation time and those who are adamant about scheduling vacations. Unfortunately, he says, the former group is twice as big as the latter.

Justifying taking time off is not always easy when you are building a business, Hartman says: “As an entrepreneur, you’re the boss. So, not only is the boss going to be away [if you take a vacation], but so is the best employee.”

Hartman has seen many cases of advisors putting all of their time, effort and money into building their business, but short-changing themselves in taking vacations. Not only does this approach reduce your ability to recharge and reduce stress, which would help your business over the long run; it also can affect the culture of your office. Your staff are likely to follow suit and avoid taking vacations, too. “You lead by example,” Hartman says.

To ensure you take a healthy break from work every year, Hartman says, block out vacation time when drawing up your annual plan. He recommends at least two significant vacation blocks per year. That approach leaves enough room for both anticipation, which has been shown to have positive effects on mental health and job satisfaction, and for reflection, which has lingering positive effects.

Scheduling those two vacation blocks into your calendar right from the start increases the likelihood that they will be treated as integral to your business.

Many advisors work around the issue of vacation by taking long weekends or a few extra days here and there. But, according to Hilbrecht, that approach is misguided. Research indicates that, in order to reap the full health benefits of taking time off, you have to allocate an appropriate amount of time – at least a week, she says. “In Canada,” she adds, “we’re in this culture of short vacations and long work hours.”

But there’s no proof that this “all work and almost no play” culture is healthy or even productive. Other countries are more positive regarding vacations.

In Germany, for example, employees start with 20 days of paid vacation and receive more holiday time as a matter of course. So, if a national holiday were to fall on a Tuesday, no one expects to work on Monday.

A number of factors can contribute to people neglecting to take vacations, such as financial incentives and lack of planning. But there often are larger cultural issues at play as well, according to Hilbrecht. Employees may feel indispensable, for example, especially if their duties have never been taken over by someone else. There also is the worry that a vacation will only translate into an increased work burden when you return. That’s why managers should encourage cross-training among employees so that tasks can be shared when one team member is absent.

Hartman knows of an advisor who provides six weeks of vacation to his employees, who then negotiate the details of coverage and workload among themselves.

Another common reason is a concern that important decisions may be made while you’re away. Again, it’s up to management to alleviate this fear, Hilbrecht says.

Finally, some managers view vacation planning in a negative light, implying that time off somehow translates into lack of commitment to a job. Again, managers must set the tone and encourage employees to take appropriate vacation time.

Says Hilbrecht: “It starts at the top.”

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