Resting to Reset: How Long Vacations, Sabbaticals Enable Us to Thrive

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Carolina Armstrong joined us in August as our director of people operations, leading and growing our people-first initiatives, remote team connection and organizational culture. 

Time off leads to a healthier work environment, happier employees, and greater impact for our clients.

Last year I spent three glorious days in Tulum eating fresh ceviche, chatting with ex-pats and lounging on pristine beaches. 

Yet I still felt the dizzying demands of work hovering over me. 

It got me thinking about the benefits of taking significant time off – and what we need to truly unplug and unlock our potential. On the final night in Tulum, a conversation with my friend (who happens to be a therapist) opened my eyes. 

As I repacked my suitcase, I thought aloud: 

“I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed.”

“I missed my dog so much.”

which quickly devolved into…

“I’ve got to get work done on the plane.”

“I have a ton to catch up with when I’m back.”

“Work is going to be hell next week.”

There was a long period of silence until my friend asked, “When’s the last time you took a vacation for more than a long weekend?”

I didn’t have an answer, maybe a year or two ago? I didn’t think it mattered – with a flexible PTO policy, I could take small trips whenever I wanted so a two-week vacation didn’t feel necessary.

My friend thought otherwise: “Unplugging isn’t just a switch you flip – you’re not really in vacation mode until day seven.” 

I was shocked. 

The more she outlined her theory, though, the more I thought she might be onto something. It takes about a week to stop reeling about typical day-to-day demands, she said, to get it out of your system before you can finally start to rest and recharge in a meaningful way.

As a striver, I feel particularly susceptible to the demands of work, particularly those I place on myself. I’ve experienced the “Sunday scaries” during every vacation in recent years – dreading the laundry list of to-do items upon my return. 

Now, I recognize that true rest requires significant time off. The other pieces of the puzzle are support and permission.

It’s so hard for us to give ourselves permission to just be and just be away. Having support to know that things won’t fall apart when you do go away is critical to being able to really unplug.

That’s what makes organizational policies so critical. Like my last employer, Lifeblue has a flexible PTO policy, meaning that we can take off time without major restrictions as long as we coordinate with our teams and continue to carry our expected workload. 

Left to our own devices, though, those of us with this benefit actually tend to take less time off than those given a set amount of days. So, one of the most challenging aspects of developing a flexible PTO policy is implementing effective guardrails to ensure that people take time off. 

I feel incredibly fortunate to have inherited some great guardrails at Lifeblue, including a two-week break around the holidays, and the opportunity to help carve out other meaningful breaks throughout team members’ careers. 

We’re continuing to explore how we can recognize major milestones with proper personal time along with the structure needed to do so. 

For five-year anniversaries, Lifeblue provides team members with a bucket list experience – something they’ve wanted for years, ranging from a family trip to Disney World to excursions in Europe and Japan. 

For 10-year anniversaries, Lifeblue provides team members with a side quest – a full six weeks off to step away and explore a personal passion project, designed to help team members unlock their out-of-office bliss beyond what a long vacation could even offer.

While we might use different language for this opportunity, at the end of the day, we’re adopting many principles of the traditional academic sabbatical.

When U.S. universities began implementing sabbaticals in the 1880s, the intent was to foster opportunities for top faculty to expand their knowledge through first-hand experience and cutting-edge research – then bring those learnings back to students and colleagues. 

Beyond expanding our knowledge, sabbaticals offer an opportunity to be truly present in a new experience – to unlock our minds and reset our way of thinking. 

Derek Odell, our head of development, is celebrating his 10-year milestone soon by getting back in the garage to rebuild a vintage Honda CR-X. We can say, without a doubt, that car is in the best of hands. 

Throughout a decade of helping build Lifeblue, Derek has continuously contributed as a thoughtful leader and a determined visionary, paving the way for others to succeed. I’m thrilled for him to get this time away to rest and let his mind wander as he works on his beloved sports car with his dad by his side. Learn more about Derek and the rest of our team here.

Investing significant time off in taking care of something so that it’s in better shape for the future? 

That’s a concept we should all get behind. 

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