Nine tips for a relaxing vacation for tax professionals who can’t switch off – Bloomberg Tax | Gmx Pharm

I’m terrible on vacation. My colleagues at Bloomberg Tax will support me in this – as will almost everyone who has ever worked with me. Likewise? I’m not proud of that, and it’s something I’ve been actively working to improve.

I know I’m not alone. Americans are not good at taking vacations. Before the pandemic, over a third (36%) of Americans said they hadn’t taken a vacation in two years — defined as a vacation trip of at least a week to a destination 100 miles or more from home. Just over half (51%) had not taken a holiday for more than a year.

Some of the reasons for this are practical — like not having enough free time. The US is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee workers paid vacations. As of 2019, no city or state in the United States guarantees annual paid leave except for the territory of Puerto Rico. In contrast, European workers are guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with some countries offering more.

We don’t take any time off

But even those who have holidays are reluctant to spend them. More than half of Americans (55%) still don’t use all of their paid time off, according to a 2019 US Travel Association survey. In 2018, American workers did not use a PTO for 768 million days—a 9% increase from 2017.

Why don’t we go on vacation? Reasons include fear that someone will decide you’re replaceable, worry that your team might reject you, and feeling like you can’t, even temporarily, let go of your responsibilities. I know I’m guilty of the latter. Maybe it’s a bit selfish, but I’m always convinced that the world will fall apart without me. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t happened yet.

I think it’s especially difficult for working people to take vacations. Every day we are busy managing clients, teams and companies. Taking time for ourselves feels selfish, but it’s not. Actually, I would say the opposite. Do you know how you feel when you’re tired and burned out? Do you think you’re doing someone a favor by joining? Are you giving a project your full attention at this point?

The reality is that it is important to make time for yourself. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Here are a few tips I learned – and am still learning – to smooth the way.

1. Set expectations

When I got my first legal job, I was afraid to go on vacation. My boss made it clear that he didn’t think I should take time off, so I promised to stop by regularly. My husband wasn’t exactly thrilled when I insisted on calling the office several times a day from London. He’s also an attorney, but has made it clear to his firm, AmLaw, that he’s taking a break. He had the better idea. I should have set realistic expectations before leaving the office and – this is the key – pulled through.

On our recent trip to London I photographed phone boxes instead of using them to call the office.

Image courtesy of Kelly Phillips Erb

2. Advance Notice

One of the reasons it’s difficult to leave the office is the feeling of missing out. The solution? Inform your colleagues and customers of your absence in advance. That way, you can set up processes to handle deadlines and last-minute emergencies, so you can dash out the door without (big) worries.

3. Trust your team

I’m a control freak. I used to think that was a good thing because it meant I cared, right? But it actually signals that you think you’re the only person who can get the job done. To be fair, I’ve had my share of not-so-great moments at work that made me feel this way — a co-worker and I once had a series of temps that made Murphy Brown blush. But that’s not how teams should work. Surround yourself with great people, make them successful, and then trust them to get the job done when you’re not around. Once you’ve set expectations and done the planning, you should be in good shape.

4. Don’t give out your cell phone number

Many professionals give their cell phone numbers to colleagues and clients. Before, but not anymore. My breaking point happened while I was shopping with my kids over the weekend. My cell phone rang and I saw that the call was from a party for a transaction that took place the following week. I assumed it would go to voicemail but it didn’t and instead it kept ringing, I figured it must be an emergency. The store didn’t have good reception, so I dragged the kids out to take the call. What was so important? As I stood on the sidewalk with three unfortunate children, the caller said they had sent me some information to verify. I learned a lot about borders that day. When I’m not in the office, I want only those who respect my time to be able to reach me.

5. Don’t be afraid of your out of office message

I saw a tweet a few weeks ago that said, “Out of office messages are for the weak.” It annoyed me. Out of office messages serve a useful purpose. A good one will explain when you will be absent and who to contact in your absence. It sends a signal to your customers – and reminds your colleagues – that you respect their time. And if an issue can’t wait for your return, there’s a system to take care of it. That’s a lot better than a late reply, or worse, spending your vacation constantly checking email just in case there’s something you weren’t expecting.

6. Disconnect… if you want

I see a lot of vacation tips advising you to unplug completely. That can be good advice. I also know that if you’re like me, you probably won’t take it. I know I want to know what’s happening and not being able to access my email and the internet will stress me out more than it will relax me. The key is to understand your limitations and work around them. Disconnect as much as you can with ease. When you’re set for success, it’s not so bad to check your email and confirm that the world is still spinning without you. And when your clients and colleagues respect your boundaries, they won’t abuse your limited online time.

7. Don’t overdo it

Remember what I said about Americans not taking vacations? The result is that when we go, we tend to plan one or two big weeks out of the year at the same time as everyone else, and then we overdo it. We eat too much. We drink too much. We try to ride every ride in the park and see every tourist attraction in town. We’re planning 10 cities in five days so we don’t miss a thing. And then we are overwhelmed and tired. I get it because I’ve done it before. But that’s not relaxing, and it means that when you come back you’ll be just as tired as you were before you left, if not more so.

The view from our hotel balcony in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Image courtesy of Kelly Phillips Erb

When my family was in San Juan recently, we had to switch hotels. It had been a tiring few days. My husband grabbed a glass of wine and a book in the new room and sat on the balcony. “I feel guilty,” he said, “as if I should be doing something else.” I reminded him that the whole point of switching hotels was to have a better experience. Focus on the good stuff, not what you might be missing.

8. Consider alternatives

Paris was high on my wish list of places to visit now that travel is opening up again. And my son is dying to go to Poland. My husband thought it would be fun to visit Madrid. Unfortunately, a variety of factors made these trips unfeasible for a while. But that doesn’t mean we had to give up free time entirely. Our solution? A stay. We planned virtual travel days during which we prepared food and drinks from all over the world, watched videos, learned a bit of the language and listened to lots of music. It was great fun – at a fraction of the price of the trip.

Homemade pretzels for a virtual day in Munich

Image courtesy of Kelly Phillips Erb

If you take time off to stay, stick to your guns. Don’t feel like you should be working, including checking email and returning calls, just because you haven’t left the house or state. A day off is still a day off.

9. Share your Snaps

This is the tip I hope you take most seriously. Share photos. Tell your stories. Send a funny tweet. Make time for yourself normally, especially if you’re the boss or in a position of power in your workplace. These young professionals are watching you. Even if you say set boundaries and pull the plug, lead by example. If you never back down, you won’t be comfortable with it either.

What are you waiting for?

I’ve heard from many tax, accounting, and legal professionals who are feeling burnt out. I get it. It’s been a tough few years. And I’m not suggesting that a real vacation — a vacation where you actually take time to relax — will completely fix the problem. But it’s definitely a start.

This is a regular column from Kelly Phillips Erb, the tax girl. Erb provides commentary on current tax news, tax law and tax policy. Each week, look for Erb’s Bloomberg Tax column and follow her on Twitter at @steuergirl.

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