Here are some recent survey results about how Americans feel about vacations, and more upsetting, their fear of taking advantage of the vacations they’ve earned. A survey conducted by the research firm Harris Interactive found that American employees use only 51 percent of their paid vacation time. The survey also found that 61 percent of Americans work while they’re on vacation, overriding complaints from their families. One-in-four said they were contacted by colleagues about a work issue, and one-in-five were contacted by their boss. The survey’s analysts concluded that Americans are become more fearful about taking time off.
Another survey conducted by Harris Interactive for travel website Expedia found that Americans failed to take advantage of four vacation days within the past year, twice as many as the prior year. That translates to more than $500 million lost vacation days a year.
The statistics are plentiful. More important than the actual numbers is that they all come to the same conclusion. Another study concluded that approximately 40 percent of Americans fail to take advantage of vacation time they have coming to them. And still another one hung its conclusions around a “post-recession work-martyr complex”, which said that many workers feel as if they’re shackled to their desks, aka, their jobs.
There is no shortage of studies to cite. But they all essentially say the same thing. Americans are hung up on their jobs, so fixated that they can’t allow themselves to enjoy their lives. They’re likely a minority, but their numbers, nevertheless, are significant. The important point is that their obsession transcends the importance of taking of themselves, but they’re likely to say that they’re doing it for their families. And often, they use their family obligations as an excuse for their obsessive behavior about their jobs.
I sound like a shrink. I apologize for that. But from what I observe, we ought to think real hard about our values, and what’s important to us. Sure, our jobs and careers are important. And taking care of our loved ones is an undeniable priority. But a lot more factors play into our life equations. What are they? They’re different for everyone. But don’t you think we should find out what they are?
From talking to travelers from all over the globe, I started to reshape my own attitudes toward my career. Until I started thinking about, I realized how unhealthy it is to shape an entire life around a job or career—regardless of how much you love your work. Everyone needs to change their rhythms and refocus themselves. It seems like such a logical and essential thing to do. I got to know one of the managers at one of the hotels I stayed at, and he started asking me questions about the U.S. and my job. Half way through our conversation, he looked at his watch and asked me if we could pick up our conversation when he returned to his job at 4 o’clock. I looked at my watch, and it was 2 p.m. Wow. Nice lunch break, I thought to myself: This guy has a great job. But actually it was not just his job, it was a tradition the entire country lived by. It was just as much a work issue as it was a lifestyle fact. Every day, the country literally shuts down between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. A short work day. All that’s open are coffee shops, sandwich shops and restaurants. Everything else—all businesses, law offices, and banks—shut down. I wondered whether productivity suffers. I’m sure studies have been done on the subject. I’d like to think it hasn’t. As I said, it’s part of their lifestyle. I’d like to think that Italians, as well as Europeans in other countries suffer less stress. But I have no statistics to back that up. I also wondered how Italian workers get ahead, how they move up the career ladder. Like most Americans, I’ve been raised to believe in the Puritan work ethic. The harder and more effort one puts into a job, the greater the rewards. Another cliché I’ve come to believe, “Hard work brings its own rewards.” Maybe it’s a myth, and I’m just another brainwashed American. I don’t know the answer.
Dozens of surveys have been conducted that prove that overwork, workaholism at its extreme, brings negative impacts, both emotionally and in terms of productivity. The statistics in my next blog prove it.
Imagine being uptight about taking a vacation that’s coming to you and that you’ve earned? That was the reaction I got from my fellow travelers that I met. They found it inconceivable, almost absurd. All of the men and women barely gave work a thought. They talked openly about that they did, but not one person was worried about losing their jobs when they returned home. They found it baffling that Americans were constantly calling and emailing their bosses and colleagues to find out how things were going at the office. But the real reason was to find out if everything was okay, and that were no storms brewing; there weren’t any sudden changes—mergers, acquisitions, product failures, plummeting revenues. But they were all excuses to find out if their jobs were secure. I explained to the travelers I met that there were good reasons for Americans’ obsession to constantly connect to their jobs. It was an all too common occurrence for Americans to return from a vacation and learn that they were fired, and were given two weeks, often less, to clear their desks and leave. Not a pleasant way to return from vacation, but it was far from an infrequent event—especially over the past three decades. While it’s happening less now than it did a decade ago, it’s still happening.
Two high ranking senior managers I met from Australia found that astonishing. Both were traveling through Europe with their families. When I met them in a small hotel in historic Siracusa, they had already been traveling for four weeks and they had three more weeks of traveling before they returned home and to their jobs. And surprisingly, they both worked for Exxon-Mobil, a large global corporation.
One of them said that senior management insists that their direct reports take advantage of all of their vacation time. It made perfect sense. How refreshing was that? It made perfect sense when I thought about it. The reasoning was obvious. With all the studies done about work stress, dangers of working excessive hours, and the prevalence of workaholism, one would think American management would be more enlightened. Bad assumption. As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Well it’s true.
More next time.
I apologize for radio silence and not communicating for a few weeks. The reason is that after not taking a vacation in five years, I needed a break. I return on Nov. 5th. While I took my notebook computer and WIFI is available in most places throughout the globe, my trusty little computer has not been all that reliable. Internet access has been sketchy in our travels thru Sicily by car. But at Agrigento, one of the most famous Sicilian cities, I was able to get a clear signal. It was an opportunity to share my experiences. This is not about my travels, but I what I learned about attitudes toward work from people we met in our travels. Aside from an opportunity to shutdown my engines, it turned out to be an incredible learning experience. Since we traveled the entire country—wending our way from Palermo—
where we landed and drove across the entire country from mountains to the sea—we met people from all over the world.
In chatting with them over coffee or beer, I learned a great deal about they felt about their jobs, and especially their attitude toward vacations. Being an American, the information was both eye-opening and disturbing. Virtually everyone I met—I talked at great length with travelers from the UK, Scandinavia, France, Holland, and Australia—were thoroughly enjoying their vacations, and they weren’t giving their jobs a second thought.
What kind of positions did they hold? Most were professionals, many middle managers and a fair percentage were senior executives and skilled craftspeople. There were two major observations I came away with. All of the travelers were away for long vacations, typically ranging from three to six weeks. And they were all having the best times of their lives, and weren’t the least bit concerned about their jobs and whether they’d still have them when they got back.
I found that astounding, compared to the fear and paranoia most Americans feel about being away from their jobs for more than a week. More in my next blog
It’s no secret that it’s hard landing a job at Google, which is unequivocally one of the most important technology companies of the century. Like Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Intel, and Sun Microsystems, they changed the way we communicate, do business, and even the way we think. Scary, but true.
When Google decision makers talk about their hiring philosophy, and particularly, how they interview and what they look for, the public’s ears perk up. And this reporter is no different.
In a recent New York Times interview, Google’s top HR guy and senior vice president of people operations Laszlo Bock explained what his company, which has a reputation for hiring brainiacs, looks for when interviewing candidates. Virtually everyone in the workforce could learn a thing or two. More than insight into Google’s interview process, we learn what one of the most powerful and influential technology companies in the world thinks is important.
Surprisingly, the giant search engine company considers GPA and test scores (such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test) useless. In fact, Google doesn’t ask job candidates for their GPA or test scores, because the company doesn’t feel they will have anything to do with the candidates’ performance if hired. While most students practically torture themselves getting top grades so they have a top-of-the-class ranking, Google doesn’t put much credence in metrics. Bock said “academic environments are artificial.” The people who thrive in them are “conditioned to succeed in that environment,” he said.
Google doesn’t look for traditional, by-the-book thinkers. They look for unusual people who can think for themselves and don’t rely on formulas or tried and tested methodologies. In short, they want people who can find solutions where there are no obvious answers.
But the Google’s HR chief said the company didn’t always think this way. Several years ago the company did a study to find out if anyone at the company excels at hiring. They looked at tens of thousands of interviews comparing how well candidates scored to their performance on their jobs. They found that interview test scores had no bearing on job performance. Those were the days when Google was famous for asking candidates mind-bending impossible questions. Bock said that the company learned that asking these questions were a waste of time because they didn’t predict anything, except make the interviewer feel smart.
Google’s hiring secret? Behavioral interviews, according to Bock, which are a “consistent set of questions that ask people what they did in specific situations.”
The obvious message to high-performing job candidates determined to land jobs at prestigious brand-name companies like Google is rather than take the traditional path and put in countless hours preparing for their torturous interviews is do some research and find out what the company considers important. In Google’s case, it’s not batting out right answers, but demonstrating that you have the ability to think independently and find your own answers. This is why Google is unique, and how it secured its global legacy.