Q: The South Korean government has a problem: Employees are working too much. The average government worker there takes only six of 23 alloted vacation days a year. How important is time off? Does productivity suffer or rise when workers forego time off? Should those who opt not to take it be forced to? And does this problem exist in the States?
Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer
While the answer to this question seems evident and simple, the reality of such a shift within a culture that rewards working long hours is an entirely different challenge. Of course, there are countless research studies demonstrating the value proposition for paid time off.
One study conducted by the Journal of Management and Marketing Research on two tortilla chip production plants shows that both sampled plants increased their productivity levels upon implementation of Contingent Time Off, a policy in which employees could work shorter hours if they met their daily quota. These same studies make a strong argument for an increase in productivity, creativity and overall happiness with work when people take time away from work.
That said, just as Ramstad and Woo point out in their Wall Street Journal article, “superiors set the tone in business and politics.” Even though leaders understand the importance of time off, they are unwilling to set the tone for those reporting to them. The old saying “Do as I say, not as I do” does not work.
I do not believe anyone should be forced to take time off, especially not if doing so will decrease the amount they are paid. Instead, I advocate very strongly for an increased sense of responsibility at the highest level of leadership. Requesting others to do what you are unwilling to do is not leadership.
The answer to the question lies in addressing, head on, the challenge of removing ourselves from the distractions of work and allowing our brains to slow enough to rejuvenate. I know all too well the nagging thought “I need to be needed — let me go see who has emailed me.” It`s difficult to stop old, clearly unsuccessful habits and replace them with new, beneficial ones.
Leaders are only as successful as their team. Thousands of studies have shown that an increase in time off results in an increase in productivity. That said, top-level leaders in South Korea and the United States (Yep, the U.S. has the same challenge) will do better to demonstrate and reward results, rather than merely advocating for an increase in productivity.
Many leaders have found themselves so wrapped up in work for so long, they don`t know or trust any other way. Leading this kind of change requires faith in the outcome and relentless dedication to the vision.