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    August 20th, 2007

    Nibblin’ on spongecake, watchin’ the sun bake
    All those tourists covered with oil.
    Strummin’ my six string, on my front porch swing.
    The smell of the shrimp beginning to boil.

    Wasted away again in Margaritaville,
    Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt…

    Words and Music by Jimmy Buffett.

    Having just returned from a short vacation that was justified by a joint presentation to the Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association and the Canadian Bar Association in Calgary on the Top Tech Tips for Judges and Lawyers with my colleagues Simon Chester and Dan Pinnington, and the Honourable Mr. Justice Garrett A. Handrigan, I reflected on the benefits of being ‘unplugged’ from the office, the web and the cell phone – even for just a short a time as a week. Yes I faced the avalanche of emails on my return. Yes I felt the gnaw of not checking emails and the guilt over upcoming deadlines. But all this was gradually replaced by a sense of renewal and reflection that I have craved – and needed – for some time. And this led me to think about my colleagues and how many of us have been avoiding taking holidays and time off due to work pressures, the sense of need for increased productivity and guilt over being away while others are at work.

    Certainly we are not alone. A recent Ipsos Reid/ study has found that North Americans – and Canadians in particular – are the worst at taking vacations. While other citizens take lengthy vacations – the French lead with 30 days, Swedes take 25 and the hard-working USA citizens take 15 – Canadians only take 10 days – while over 32 million vacation days in Canada go unclaimed every year.

    There are costs in not taking vacations. The Journal of Travel Medicine in a paper entitled: “Managing Cancer: The Role of Holiday Taking found that:

    “Holiday taking offers a vehicle for transcending illness, even if only for a short period of time. Travel offered a range of therapeutic opportunities as well as providing a necessary means of escapism. Promoting travel as part of the rehabilitation process may well generate more intrinsic benefits than are currently appreciated. Such benefits may also be of broader application to patients facing other similarly complex illnesses.”

    Even the Pope hails the benefits of taking holidays. In July in the Italian Alps, he urged the faithful to to use holidays for “meditation on the deep meaning of life, surrounded by family and loved ones.”

    Personally I believe that the pace of life has reached the point where law firms and legal employers need to be proactive in ensuring that their staff and lawyers take time off – for this paradoxically will result in increased productivity and job satisfaction from those who return to the workplace refreshed, renewed and ready to tackle new challenges. Now my New-Year’s resolution (for I feel that September is really the start of the New Year..not January…) is to ensure that vacation – and down – time is built into next year’s schedule, lest it slip between our fingers and be lost…after all, wasting away in Margaritaville may not be wasted time after all…

    This entry was posted on Monday, August 20th, 2007 at 11:29 pm and is filed under personal focus and renewal, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

    One Response to “No time for time off…”
    1. pete smith Says:

      Thanks for your post! Your hint that firms may need to start “enforcing” vacation time brings to mind what one hears constantly when shopping or frequenting restaurants. Employees in those industries are required to take their breaks and lunches, by law and by policy–no matter how busy things are, no matter how long the lines are at the register.

      Increased regulation (at least in my home state of California) is such that employers face class-action lawsuits if their employees are not required to take their legally-enforced break periods.

      While I would never, NEVER, suggest any sort of increased regulation on the part of lawyers. It might do all of us some good to have our respective professional associations start issuing ‘best practices’ reports that encourage–in the strongest possible terms–law firms to keep track of vacation days taken.

      Perhaps this could undo some of the ‘machismo’ surrounding “no vacation days” taken in law firms. I’m sure this sort of “I’m so tough I don’t need vacation” attitude permieates the rest of US corporate culture, but it is particularly rampant in law firms.

      Of course, there is a HUGE myth to “no vacation days”–and that is that there is no lost productivity. The more primitive parts of our mind will kick in when the conscious mind refuses to take care of the organism. There is a very great number of hours being squandered in law firms in water-cooler talk, blogging (oops!) and other casual surfing–and also, alot of just plain staring blankly at briefs and on-line legal opinions as we wait for the badly undercharged brain cells to start firing. Perhaps we really do need a new culture that enforces official, sanctioned downtime.

      In the interests of full disclosure, I haven’t taken a day of vacation time in three years. 🙂

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