THE BLOG
05/31/2016 04:58 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2017

Get Away to Get Ahead

With data that consistently shows Americans leave more than 400 million vacation days on the table annually, and that 40% of us did not take any vacation time in 2015, there are way too many empty beach chairs out there.

Even when we do get away, we often obsess more about where to find the best WiFi than the best sunset.

I admit to being just as guilty as the many CEOs, senior executives, and rising leaders of the world's most respected food industry brands we work with every day at the Women's Foodservice Forum (WFF). Whether checking emails while overlooking the Grand Canyon, walking the Florida Keys engrossed in a two-hour conference call, or writing a Board report while "watching" your kids build sandcastles on the beach, we have all been there.

But is this approach really driving the results we want for ourselves or colleagues?

Information from Boston College's Center for Work and Family says vacations increase physical and mental wellbeing as well as productivity and focus in the workplace. Employees who take vacation actually tend to perform better, get better performance reviews and boost heart health. The stakes are especially high for women who take even fewer vacation days than men do.

A summer spent in a cabin in the woods is unlikely, and perhaps even undesirable. However, putting practices in place to help you and your team create greater work-life balance is a sound investment. It is likely to pay off with better health, relationships and wellbeing, and improved performance.

Summer is the perfect time to strive for greater work-life balance and these thoughts can get you started.

• Schedule vacation the way you schedule a critical meeting. Think ahead, clear other commitments, publicize the date and stick to it.

• Lead by example. You show up early, work late and bring your best every day so your staff will do the same. They are much more likely to use vacation time if you do.

• Consider taking summer Friday afternoons off or scheduling them off for your entire team. Alternate half of the office one week and others the next.

• Encourage more flexible work hours and working offsite in the summer to give employees more options to connect with kids home from school.

• Avoid sending the message that you are just as available during vacation as you are at work. Designating others to act in your stead frees you and demonstrates respect for the abilities and judgment of your colleagues.

• "Working vacation" is an oxymoron and decreases the benefits of time off. If you must remain well connected during vacation, block out set hours to respond to requests. Stick to those "work hours" and unplug the rest of the day.

• Schedule several uninterrupted hours the evening before or the morning of your first day back. Use it to prioritize actions and avoid re-entry anxiety or overwhelm.

We know working harder and longer is not the same as working smart. Invest the same creativity, intellect and innovation we typically bring to work to figuring out a better work-life balance. In doing so, we are likely to find a real vacation offers significant return on that investment.