Against the backdrop of high unemployment and an economy that some fear has already slipped back into recession, President Obama recently came under fire for taking a summer vacation with the first family in Martha's Vineyard. Seems the guy can't catch a break, literally. While his conservative critics seemed to overlook the fact that President Bush had taken three times as many vacation days after the same amount of time in office, images of the commander in chief -- any commander in chief -- hitting golf balls at a luxury resort while everyday Americans are struggling may not have sent the best message politically. But politics, as we know, rarely reflect reality. Which got us thinking: How important is it for everyone, even the president, to pause, recharge the proverbial batteries and take a little well-deserved rest?
The presidency, of course, is as much a 24-7 job as they come, and even while "on vacation," the president continually receives briefings, meets with advisers and remains on alert should a major incident unfold. Entrepreneurship is a close second. Running a business comes with enormous responsibility, and there is no real "off" switch, even for those who have assembled a solid supporting cast. How many times have you seen someone camped out in a beach chair -- feverishly typing away on a BlackBerry? Probably an entrepreneur.
But vacations -- even if you never leave home -- are all but essential, the research tells us. Not just for unwinding and de-stressing, but because they often serve as a time to regroup and generate new ideas, making us even more productive when we return. And Americans already take far less vacation time than people in nations around the world.
So we decided to ask the hardest-working group we know -- our Board of Directors -- how important they think vacations are, both for themselves and their staffs.
Sir Richard BransonFounder and Chairman, Virgin Group
"I get quite angry about companies in America, including some of our own, who give people such short vacations. I think you can say it's an absolute disgrace and especially for people that have families. I really do think -- and especially when you've got such high unemployment -- the jobs could be shared around amongst everybody in America. Those people that want to job-share would have longer time off with their family without being made to feel guilty by the company. You should be allowed to do so. It's a much better balance of life.
"I know how difficult it is to change that attitude, because I get the chief executives of our companies from America down to Necker to talk to them occasionally and tell them that if people want to take leave for six months, they should be able to do so. If they want to share jobs with somebody else, they should be able to do so. It's just so difficult to get people to change their attitudes. But, it's time that parents need to find time with their children and occasions like that are very important for recharging the batteries, getting healthy and coming back to work even harder."
JJ RambergCo-Founder, GoodSearch and Host, MSNBC's Your Business
"Vacations are incredibly important. Running a small business is hard work and the risk of burnout is high. Taking a little time off allows you a moment to breathe, recharge your batteries and come back to work excited and
motivated. (Not to mention, it's important to spend some uninterrupted quality time with your significant other, kids, parents, etc.). In addition, taking a vacation gives you a chance to see how well your team works without you. If your company cannot run while you're gone for a few days, you've either not done enough training or have put together an incomplete team.
"All of that said, I'm both horrified and proud that I did some work every single day while on my honeymoon. (Thank goodness I married another entrepreneur who understood!) My company was still pretty new and I was critical to its daily operations. When you have a startup, all rules are thrown out the window. But now that my company is more mature, a work-free second honeymoon is in the making!"
Bob ParsonsFounder and CEO, The Go Daddy Group
"Vacations are very important. Time off gives you the opportunity to clear your mind, relax and rejuvenate, which can make you even more effective at work. To this, add the fact that the vast majority of us 'work to live' instead of 'live to work.'
"We abide by this philosophy at Go Daddy. We give our employees three weeks off in their first year with us, four weeks the second year and six weeks in the fifth year. It's important to enjoy life. Remember Rule No. 16 -- we're not here for a long time, we're here for a good time!"
Elizabeth Busch, Anne Frey-Mott and Beckie JankiewiczCo-Founders, The Event Studio
"Vacations are extremely important and the only way to truly relax, rejuvenate and focus on the vacation itself and those you are sharing it with -- and to completely unplug from work. If you are half in and half out, you lose the benefit of the time away."
Clint GreenleafFounder and CEO, Greenleaf Book Group
"Vacations are critical. Time away helps not only the mind and spirit, but is good for the office to be without you. I don't begrudge presidents for taking time off -- that job seems pretty stressful."
Julie JumonvilleCo-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer, UpSpring Baby
"Vacations are extremely important. I come back energized and refueled and some of my best innovation either happens on vacation or immediately following because I have left my stress at the office."
Rob AdamsDirector, Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas
"First, they are very important. Secondly, no one really disconnects any more in this wired world. So is he really on vacation if he’s the leader of the free world and available by every electronic means available?"
Lexy FunkCo-Founder and CEO, Brooklyn Industries
"I just returned from my first vacation in a year and a half -- driving across Turkey to the east to see my partner’s family. I feel refreshed, ready for the challenge of retail and raring to go. But no way would this happen without having Internet access for seven days. Without vacations, we all become droids on network steroids, perhaps the president included."
Rieva LesonskyFounder and CEO, GrowBiz Media
"This is clearly 'do as I say and not as I do advice' but vacations are vitally important. True, I haven’t taken one since shortly after launching my business more than three years ago. Vacations help us change the view, which can spark an idea or kick start creative thinking.
"It’s also important, if you have a family, that you spend time with them. They need to know that you are as invested in them, as you are in your business (which, of course, you are, but sometimes forget to show it.)
"All that said, vacations in the year 2011, much like business, have evolved. You’re in charge. You can choose to go off the grid, disconnect and leave your business in the capable hands of your staff. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, the very idea of taking a week off likely paralyzes you. So substitute long weekends for a week off. On the other hand, with today’s technology, you can essentially bring your work with you, keeping you as in touch with your business as you want to be. (Kind of like presidents do.)
"Seriously, people just need to chill -- and I mean that in every sense of the word."
Tom SzakyFounder, TerraCycle
"Very important. People need time to recenter and regroup. Burnouts are real and usually impact your best employees."
Phil TownInvestor and Author of Rule #1 And Payback Time
"If you're doing what you love, your whole life is a vacation. You never go to work. You just go play all day. Vacations are for people who work for a living and I think if you're one of those, you should absolutely vacate for at least six weeks a year minimum. Teachers have it about right -- 12 weeks off for the summer, a week at Thanksgiving, three weeks at Christmas, a week at Easter and various other days here and there. But really, cowboy up and get your own thing going so you look back at your life and it wasn't about a series of two-week breaks getting drunk on a beach."