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The Value of Time Off


During a recent coaching session a young lady shared with me a challenge she faces on her job. Let me start by saying that I don’t get the sense that she’s a serial whiner or complainer, neither do I get the sense that she doesn’t like her boss and is just looking to rock the boat. After spending time coaching her boss and fellow employees I get the sense that she really loves her job, but she has a challenge that’s wearing her down, threatening her morale, and causing her to question her value.

Things are great at her job until it’s time for her to request time off. Even if she requests time off in advance she gets, in her words, “grief, griping, and groaning.” She feels that she does a great job, I’ve seen her work therefore I can concur, so she feels that time off every now and then for life events such as getting married, a child’s doctor appointment or meeting with a child’s teacher at school shouldn’t be that big of a deal, especially since the job doesn’t require face-to-face client contact. She can catch up on any lost administrative time later in the evening at work or on Saturdays, but. her boss doesn’t like the idea of this. In the words of her boss, “She’s paid to be here from 8am – 5pm, so I want her here from 8am to 5pm.”

Notice the language used by her boss – “She’s paid to be here…” After talking to her boss, I realized they had been dealing with the symptom not the problem or its root cause. This whole challenge of requesting time off is really about different expectations of what work is, what work looks like, and what people are paid for. For instance the young lady would frequently say, “you don’t pay me to be here, you pay me to get things done and whether I’m sitting here or not, I’m getting those things done and more.”

There are several lessons we all learned during this:

  1. In some cases, there are generational differences in the way we define and describe work; this was definitely the case here. The boss (in her 60’s) was taught and therefore believed that work was about being in a place for a certain time period and if you weren’t in that place for that period you weren’t working. The employee (in her 20’s) believed that she needed to be in a place for a period of time, but that didn’t define or constrain her work space. There’s a difference between a place of work and work space. Many baby boomers are accustomed to going to a place of work. Many millenials thrive when they are allowed to be creative when defining their work space.
  2. The term “boss” is one of those words that’s beginning to get some resistance because it creates a mindset between the authoritative figure (boss) and the subordinate (employee) – when’s the last time you heard someone referred to as a subordinate? My point exactly. I’m not anti-hierarchy and yes, the buck must stop with someone, however I believe the culture of having a “boss” versus the culture of being a leader are two different things.
  3. The third lesson we learned is that people have lives. As areas of their lives evolve it will have an impact on other areas of their lives – so yes, home life will have an impact on work life. This notion that my home life never impacts my work is a stretch for the average person’s reality.
  4. Some of us have been conditioned to give more credence to the activity than the accomplishment. The average employer evaluates or assesses an employee’s performance based on “activities performed” not “results accomplished”. Activity is the means, accomplishments are the results – many workplace disagreements arise from the fact that supervisors and managers believe that controlling the means guarantees results. That’s not the case in many places. When possible give your people the opportunity to modify the means and watch results soar. This takes courage and humility.
  5. Employees don’t necessarily consider their paycheck as a sign of the value they provide. The young lady in this story made very good money, but regardless of the check, she felt undervalued because her boss couldn’t see the commitment in her willingness to work from home to make up for lost time and the fact that all of her past accomplishments were discounted when she asked for time off. Please understand it wasn’t the denial of time off that was the problem, it was the grief, groaning, and griping – all of that made the employee feel unappreciated and “less than”.


What other lessons do you see here? Any recommendations for the boss or the employee?


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