Caitlin Hitt hiking.

We’ve all faced that moment of panic watching our phone battery diminish before our eyes while we are in the midst of that very important phone call or email response. We frantically search for the charger and let out a sigh of relief as life is breathed back into that little piece of metal that will keep us connected to friends, family, and colleagues.

Today’s workforce is much like the phones we carry each day. Continually striving to be ‘on’ and rarely taking a moment to unplug and let our batteries rest. But what if it was not a luxury to unplug? What if everyone took a break from the busy-ness? We promote meatless Mondays but how about technology-less Tuesdays or no Wi-Fi Wednesdays? Would we be able to charge ourselves back up again?

Don’t Just Log Out. Check Out.

I am someone who doesn’t call out of work and leaves PTO days unused at the end of each year. No, I’m not a workaholic, but I do love my work. I am on the road three weeks each month and I spend about ninety percent of my day on the phone. The idea of going completely off the grid for two weeks each year is scary. However, three years ago I realized that this decision would radically change how I work.

You know what they say – “Go big or go home?” I knew that in order to fully check out, I couldn’t just hide my phone in the hotel desk drawer, I needed to go away. Far away to places like New Zealand, South Africa, and most recently Alaska.

My husband and I recently traveled to the Alaskan backcountry. Talk about off the grid! No cell phones, no Internet, no TV, and no distractions. It took me a couple of days to realize that the repeated “No Service” message on my phone really meant, “No Service.” I had no choice but to focus on the beauty around me and remember that even though I was off the grid, my RiverRoad team was on and they’d handle whatever challenge came their way.

According to Project Time Off, half of Americans do not take vacations. There are many reasons for this relatively new trend. One is the fear of the volume of emails piling up during their absence. Another is job security. And perhaps the one excuse we hear (or use!) all the time, ‘I just don’t have the time.’

Here’s what I’ve learned about these unfounded fears. Sure, the emails will pile up, yet most of them will have resolved themselves by the time you return. Alternately, they’ll contact your backup as noted in your automated “out of office” reply. Is it actually true that your job would really on the line if you don’t take time off or is this a myth we continue to subscribe to? Lastly, if you can find time to work out or go out to dinner, then you really can find time to take time off. It’s a matter of priorities.

Management by Trust

Mid-size to large corporations spend between $3 and $13 million dollars annually on employee training. I think we can agree that’s a lot of money. We invest in our teams because we know that investment will have a big payoff in the future. Yet if we never let our teams apply this training and knowledge, then not only have we wasted money, we’ve likely disengaged them.

Something I find fascinating is that we spend so much time and endless resources building productive and efficient teams, but then worry that they won’t be able to handle a few days on their own. Left to their own devices, will they treat the customers professionally? Will they be able to fix the technical glitch that arose over the weekend? Of course they will. Why? Because you as their manager, leader, and mentor taught them to and more importantly, you trust them to do so.

When I returned to the office after my two-week hiatus, I was reinvigorated. I was energized. I was ready to tackle the numerous emails with ease. Thanks to my dedicated and reliable team, there were no fires for me to put out. Nothing was irrevocably broken and within a few days, the email box was empty (for a moment or two) and my spirit was filled with terrific memories that I will cherish forever.

My sights are already on next year’s “Go Big” vacation knowing my team back home will enable me to unplug and recharge once again. While you may not be able to unplug for two weeks, you can begin to take baby steps towards taking time off to fully disengage. Start by taking a long weekend and then build from there. You don’t have to go to Alaska, but I do recommend going out of your state. Experience the wonders of traveling and know that on the other side of the pond, your team has your back.

Caitlin Hitt

Client Retention Expert, Team Leader, Business Development Professional