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Take a break

When December comes around every year, many office goers think of taking a vacation. True, the summer months have many more on the move; after all, the schools are closed and you can travel as a family unit. But Indian tradition has been to visit what is called one’s “native place”. These aren’t vacations; it’s duty.

A real vacation — when you don’t have a care in the world except to relax and enjoy yourself — has been somewhat alien to Indian work culture. “People don’t like to take leave and stay out of the loop for even a couple of days,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh. “There is a sense of insecurity.”

Singh contends that everybody likes to consider himself or herself indispensable. If they are out for a month, say, and the office hums along fine during their absence, they will feel threatened when they come back. The fear: The next time the pink slips are handed out, they may be at the top of the list. (This is not restricted to the yuppie on the move; how many CEOs have you seen who fail to groom a successor for the same apprehensions.)

Slowly, however, things are changing. The new generation entering the workplace has enough confidence in itself. There is no pleading, squeezing out a few days here and there at the convenience of the company. The thirty-something with the flashy tie will tell you he is taking off on an Alaska cruise next month. If, as his boss, you don’t like it, you can lump it.

This is good, because a vacation is necessary for mental well-being and a work-life balance (see box). Some companies have even begun insisting that people take their 30 days of earned leave every year. Leave encashment is being shown the door.

Yet there are mixed signals on this front. If you are sitting on a riverboat jabbing away at your BlackBerry, you are not really on vacation. And there are many in India too who are permanently hooked to their smartphone.

In the US, where job confidence has been taking a beating over the years (with smart Indian brains in Bangalore replacing the Don Quayle clones), fear of losing one’s job is increasing.

According to the US Families and Work Institute, in 1977, 45 per cent of American employees felt truly secure in their jobs. In 2002, this was down to 36 per cent. More pertinently, 42 per cent of Americans do some form of work while on vacation, while only 14 per cent take a vacation of two weeks or more.

There are no corresponding numbers available for India. But Indians are going abroad in ever-increasing numbers. In several countries, Indian tourists have emerged amongst the biggest spenders. A stronger rupee is going to boost this trend further.

But if you talk to HR practitioners, you won’t get them to agree on whether the trend is really established. Singh, for one, says that ambitious executives are still vacation-phobic. They may not be fearful about losing their jobs, but they are worried about losing their edge.

“The trouble is that companies also want to extract the maximum out of you,” he says. “They know that you will burn out and that is the time they will put you on the backburner. But while you can deliver, they want it all. Eventually, it is for the individual to take care of his well-being.”

He has some simple advice. Take a month’s vacation, go to some place where you cannot be reached, and take stock of what you are doing with your life. You will return a changed person. The trouble, however, is that most people don’t last out a month. After just a few days of “total boredom” they are back for their next fix of corporate crack.


You need a vacation because…

You gain a perspective on life.

It wards off burnout.

It enhances creativity.

It gives quality family or self time.

It provides a rest for your body and mind.

You get appreciation when you return to work.

You begin to appreciate your job more (if you love your job, that is).

It gives you time to think about your career.

(Source: Adapted from Work to Live, by Joe Robinson)

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