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My strange aversion to vacations (42floors.com)
46 points by jaf12duke on April 24, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 50 comments

I have to say this article really annoyed me.

Maybe I read too much into it, but he seems to be snubbing people who take vacation. I'm glad not vacationing works for him, and it's his life to live, but that's not for everybody. I wouldn't write an article snubbing people who work all the time, and I don't see why he needs to snub people who take vacation.

Second, he seems incredibly proud to be working all the time. A good portion of the article is basically, "Hey, check me out! I'm working all the time! How cool am I?". Get over it.

Third, the author has a hugely exaggerated sense of self-importance. Reading the article, you'd think he's curing cancer and AIDs and cleaning up the environment all at once. Take this, for example: "But startups are different. Startups are a mission; a belief that something impossible is actually possible. It’s being part of a team that is working toward some distant horizon. It’s this competing against the impossible that makes it so much fun."

And what is the distant horizon he's working toward? From the 42 Floors home page, it's "The best place to find office space." That's the impossible he's making possible? That's why he's working 100% of the time? What a joke.

I think you did read too much into it. He's saying that even when you have a liberal vacation policy at a startup, and even when you encourage people to take advantage of it, they still don't take vacation because the type of people who do startups are workaholics. So if you're going to work there, you should take a couple weeks off before you start, because you probably aren't going to want to afterward.

Telling a workaholic at a startup, "you can take as much vacation as you want" is really telling them, "take as little vacation as you need." A vacation for a workaholic is like a pitstop for a racecar driver.

But if you give people a set number of vacation days per month or year, and refuse to roll them over, aka "use it or lose it" policy, then you will see them start taking vacation. (This part is my observation, not the OP's)

> But if you give people a set number of vacation days per month or year, and refuse to roll them over, aka "use it or lose it" policy, then you will see them start taking vacation. (This part is my observation, not the OP's)

I would say that, for getting true workaholics to take time off, even that's too lax. Enforced paid leave for all employees might be a better solution. For that matter, if it won't kill the company, try closing the office for a month each year. :)

The finance/banking industry has this. Investment bankers are usually required to take 2 consecutive weeks off every year. The reasoning behind it is, it is much harder to cover up fraud if you are forced to be away from the office for two entire weeks, because they can audit your books while you're gone.

Not so much that they can audit your books, but that any scheme you're running that requires constant intervention will fail and be detected by e.g. the books just not balancing at the end of the week.

I seem to remember hearing this policy goes all the way down to bank tellers.

I've noticed this about a lot of startups. Even more so than everyone thinks they're The Next Big Thing, everyone thinks their mission is Incredibly Important and whatever Capitalized Buzzword is in at the moment.

It's important to have passion, and to believe in your product. Your product doesn't need to feed the poor or clothe the needy for you to be passionate about it, but my word there is nothing revolutionary about commercial real estate (to use 42Floors as an (unfair?) example).

The opposite was intended. See this paragraph:

But that doesn’t mean startup people don’t need vacations – we clearly do. If for no other reason than our best ideas come when we’ve been able to disengage from the problem in front of us. Vacations are a change of scenery. They’re a chance for perspective. They’re quality time with our friends, family and significant others. They’re a chance to see the world, to waste away the day reading books, playing chess, trying new things. Vacations are 100% essential.

"And what is the distant horizon he's working toward? From the 42 Floors home page, it's 'The best place to find office space.' That's the impossible he's making possible? That's why he's working 100% of the time? What a joke."

I respect all your prior annoyances, and don't care to comment on them, but this one pissed me off. 42Floors seems to be doing a fucking awesome job in helping startups, even well established companies, find office space. Pissing on their efforts by making some snide remark ('what a joke') is completely uncalled for. Finding office space IS a huge problem for companies, especially startups who don't have much money but still need some space...42Floors is making that process (which I'm sure can sometimes be seemingly impossible) far simpler by providing the service that they are.

Yeah, it's a great service they're offering, and I didn't mean to imply it's not.

But the author seems to be putting it right up there with fighting for civil rights or vaccinating children or helping the poor. And that's taking it too far.

It's good to be motivated and passionate about work, but it's also good to have perspective.

I don't think passion is limited to fighting for civil rights.

But you're right in that I do talk about startups as a mission. And that's because a startup's default result is failing. It takes extraordinary efforts to avoid that default result and very, very few ever make it.

For what it's worth, I worked for 5 years running a non-profit as well. Loved that job too. I don't find passionate work to be limited to either startups or non-profits.

This made me think of Bret Victor's talk Inventing on Principle where he encourages the audience to basically do what you're criticizing - sort of developing an activist mentality for the problem you're trying to solve, even if it may seem trivial to some.


> it's also good to have perspective

I would argue the opposite: if everyone took a global perspective on everything, nobody would ever do anything except work to extend the human lifespan. For humanity to be worth anything, it needs to strive for "useless" goals--art, humor, making money, etc. And to be motivated to strive for these goals, you need to think what you're doing is the most important thing you could be doing--even if, in a global sense, it's not.

Is it enough of a problem to burn the rest of your life on a pyre in service of that goal?

You didn't get far enough into the article. Company policy at the startup he runs is unlimited paid time off and a 'just short of mandatory' two week paid "precation" immediately before beginning work.

What matters in this case is having a mission, not the specifics of what the mission is. That's what makes vacations tough - the trip can cause the same frustration that a speed bump does for drivers.

"Your coworkers are your friends. It’s so much closer to a life style than a job that taking a vacation from your startup doesn’t have the same connotation."

This guy does not get what vacations are about. I know what it feels like to work hard with people you like at a job you enjoy, but I also know what it's like to kill two weeks lounging around southern Europe and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea every day. Both things are good but they are not the same thing. If you think satisfying work is a substitute for a good vacation you are doing it wrong.

Hmmm...maybe the fault is in my writing. I think vacations are incredibly important. And I've now learned to take them (just spent 8 days in the BVIs...it was awesome). And I want everyone in our company to take more of them. I thought that was clear in the post.

My mother once said to me that vacations aren't as much about relaxation as they are about doing different things than what you usually do. I've come to believe the same thing, and in that regard going to a different country is definitely an effective way to take a vacation from your normal life.

While I like that definition, it perhaps makes it difficult to draw a distinction between work and vacation. For instance, I spend a few weeks each year tending to my farm. Its an enjoyable break from routine, but it is still technically work. That is vacation to me, but to an outsider it looks like I don't take vacations.

People mimic their management chain. If the CEO/managers don't take vacations, neither will their directs.

One of the most balanced (and productive) teams I've worked on was under a general manager who had 8 kids and made it a point to attend _every_ event they had and go on regular vacations. Since everybody ran into his policy at some point (reviews scheduled at 5pm canceled or him out of town for a week or two), the whole org was pretty good about doing the same. And it was very different from other orgs in the company, many of which had the usual long hours + weekends culture.

There's a lot of truth to this. I take a vacation every quarter now. And I do so unapologetically. It does help convey that vacations are socially acceptable.

I have to disagree with that premise. Our two founders are around 4 days per week, usually go home around five and tend to take long vacations.

The rest of us have to be encouraged to take our vacation days.

There's a culture of everyone taking days off on a regular basis without too much formality ("won't be in this friday, see ya"), but long vacations are rare.

Do you think everyone would take those random days off on a regular basis if your founders instead worked 6 days a week and never took vacations? (honest question based on your situation, not rhetorical/sarcastic)

Sometimes, particularly with young people (no family and no college buddies around), I had trouble getting them to take vacations because frankly they just had nobody to hang out with for a long period of time. You can only sit at home (or on the beach) and play WoW for so long, so it didn't really bother me much when they didn't, as long as they were taking enough random days off to stay fresh and motivated at work.

Yeah, my boss takes days off all the time (and deservedly so), but I'm accruing "use or lose" days at a scary rate now and I have no vacation plan in sight other than a few days in May for family and a week in July for family.

Edit: And to be clear, I think this has been and will continue to be detrimental to my work product overall, the only reason I haven't taken a break yet is being I'm triple-hatted for now until July or so. By then I'll have a chance to think about what I want to do with my break, I hope.

Good companies should not have a single point of failure. If they do, the only way they'll learn to live without you is if you're not there.

Just take a break. Go somewhere that doesn't have cell phone coverage. (Alternatively, just turn it off when you get on the plane and leave it off until you get off the plane coming back.) Don't pay for internet. I did that a few months ago on my trip to Italy. Best. Vacation. Ever.

I came to the conclusion a while ago that without a significant ownership stake (where I benefit when the company profits or is sold), not taking time for myself and family means lost opportunity for life.

IMO every cost should have a potential positive return. Work = paycheck. More work = vacation, unless more work = windfall.

I feel like startups that have no vacation policy at all (as in, take as much as you want) run into the problem where employees might feel guilty about taking vacation or forget to take all their days because they're busy. However if the norm is 7 days or 10 days or 14 days per year, it's more concrete and you don't feel guilty for taking them. I think it's psychological.

Personally I don't really ever feel the need for a vacation more than one day every few months, but that's just me now in a particular time and place. I think that'll change as the demands on my life change.

It works both ways, the other problem with "take as much as you want" is that it makes it more difficult to call people on not taking enough time off.

You may not think you need a vacation, but others may feel your work is getting sloppier and you're more easily irritated. Most human beings are usually the last to notice these things about themselves.

I also think it can be job-specific. For example, I'm working on a website on the side which requires both more administrative work and more product/creative work than my day job. My day job is in marketing, and the more time I take off the more time I'm not running performance marketing campaigns that generate revenue every day. I think vacation is very specific to job function in many cases -- in one I would definitely reach burn out and in another I wouldn't. In creative work, like if you're a graphic designer, I can imagine not taking a break would have greater repercussions on the creative process than in my job.

As a european it feels equally strange every time I read about "unlimited" vacation. IMHO, it's just as bad as unlimited bandwidth, or whatever. It's just not unlimited.

Where I work I have 30 days paid vacation (in adition to big holidays). If I don't use them, I get to push 5-10 of the unused days to the next year (and can save them for up to five years, after which I get their worth in salary; I guess about $150-200 per day).

Currently I have ~20 days saved, so theoretically I could take 50 days vacation this year (work permitting).

This system sets both a lower and upper limit to how much vacation is expected. Much fairer for the employee - no more guessing when it becomes too much vacation.

I'm guessing most employers in USA would consider 30 days to be too many?

And yes, even though I don't work for a startup I still consider my team mates my friends.

My wife and I come from two different continents and live in a third. That results in a whole lot of traveling just to visit family, and basically no time left for "vacations". It feels rather unsustainable. Would love an unlimited vacation policy, but in the end probably feel guilty to be taking way more than the average person at the company. In less than a year though, we'll move to my home country which has minimum 5 weeks vacation, with many people having 6-7 weeks. Not only does that mean we can cut our "family visit" traveling in half, but also increase vacation by roughly 70%. It'll mean taking a pay cut, but honestly it's worth it.

Unlimited vacation policies are mainly a way for the employer to avoid the accounting and financial burden that occurs when providing defined vacation benefits. Vacation benefits are not required, but if a company offers them, most states require the employer to track employee absences and leave accrual. Unused vacation must be paid out when the employee leaves the company. Unlimited vacation policies remove the need for tracking and payouts for unused vacation time.

That's not the case for us. The administrative burden is not heavy. Most payroll solutions include this out of the box. The much bigger issue for us is that we don't like rules and policies. We try to take 'do what you think is right' to the nth degree.

I end up only using about 5 days for a week-long trip each year. Then November rolls around, and I try to schedule all my remaining days before I lose them at the end of the year.

I can't get anything done at the office because nobody else is there. Sure I can work on things and enjoy peace but without graphic artists or designers there I can only go so far, I'll end up throwing stuff out because it's not what they wanted.

But if I stay home, I'm stuck doing holiday stuff or running around to the homes of friends and family. When I get back to work after New Years I need a vacation.

My fiance and I have taken to using our vacation when others generally don't. She has an unlimited vacation policy while mine is very strict (n hours per pay period) but generous. Taking vacation at odd times means it's less crowded where ever we go (if we go anywhere) as well as if there is a large absence of employees from her firm or mine, it's almost like a second vacation where we can concentrate on getting our individual tasks completed.

There is less of a pronounced absence at the end of the year for my company because hours roll over and the cap is somewhere around 2.5 years of time.

I've felt the same way for my whole life, and the idea of a pre-cation is how I have to trick myself into taking time off too.

My first jobs were "in my spare time", and instead of taking a vacation from school to go party in Cancun for Spring Break (spend time AND money), I'd work. Mostly to pay for more school OR for that sweet computer I wanted.

Since having a "real job", my brain still considers vacation as "time I'm not earning money", even though it's Paid Time Off. Even when I do manage to trick myself into vacation, they're usually "active" trips, where I feel like every minute needs to be spent doing something "productive" like snorkeling or feeding sharks. You won't find me laying out on the beach anywhere!

The ironic thing is that I work in the travel industry and I know how important this stuff is! I think our problem is that we want to create value with our limited time on this planet, so maybe we need to consider it to be an investment that will pay us back in inspiration later down the road.

I really liked their idea of a "precation", two weeks of paid vacation before you start:

"At 42floors, we heavily, heavily recommend that all new people take two weeks of vacation starting exactly on their first official day. What this means is that when you get a job offer from us, you’ll pick a start date. And that’s the day we start your payroll. And that’s the day you leave for vacation.

And you get to take that time to transition from one chapter of your life to the next. If your startup just failed or you hated your last job, you get a couple weeks of mental and physical recovery. If you have a significant other that’s been dying to get away with you, you can go away someplace nice knowing that your first paycheck will be waiting for you when you return."

As a fellow entrepreneur, your challenges with vacation resonates with me. We offer hefty vacation plans in our company but no one actually takes advantage of them because they're motivated, self starters that love to work.

The precation concept is interesting.

Or, many of them do want to take advantage of their vacation, but the culture is such that they feel like they shouldn't take vacation because nobody else does.

I understand the precation.

One of the best trips I had was after getting laid off from a large dysfunctional corporation that was under going a re-org and having few years of accumulated salary in the bank due to never having a chance to take a "real" break from work in several years.

HR was shocked when they realized that I hadn't taken more than few days off in my tenure. I had over 6 months of "combined" time that had rolled over year after year.

But I was the chump that got things done, covered during the holidays, for installs, moves, covered Y2K, and when everyone else had a life and babies.

Never again.

I've never worked for a startup, but I've always had an aversion to vacation.

It's not that I don't like going places or enjoying myself, but I hate being away and I hate not being involved and getting things done.

A good vacation for me is a day off to relax here and there, or a weekend away. Taking more than 3 days at a time always seems like too much and I end up wanting to get back. I still need to take that week long vacation every year for the enjoyment of my wife and kids, but it seems too long.

In India, the concept of a long vacation is still alien. This year we are going to experiment with 5 day shutdown during xmas.

Most people here don't have a sense of holidaying. So they end up too bored that they turn back to work!

> In India, the concept of a long vacation is still alien ... Most people here don't have a sense of holidaying.

I think this is a holdover from the colonial era, when the British, before embarking on a fox hunt, expressed the view that the natives shouldn't be wasting their time holidaying.

Perhaps. Also the economic momentum has made people more driven and those who are not that driven, would still get to work due to peer pressure. We need a 'slowdown movement' of our own!

As an effective manager you should make sure you're leaving your developers time to go do something. Makes them better developers and keeps burnout at bay.

whats the point of life if you are working all the time? Life is about balance and not taking a vacation - ever - sounds like your balance is off kilter.

I'm not really sure what I would do with a vacation. Travelling doesn't particularly interest me, and I would get bored fast if I stayed at home to watch TV all day long. I get paid to do my hobbies, so that would technically qualify as work.

Could it not be possible that you can feel balanced without vacation? Perhaps some people experience some of what you experience in a vacation every day.

Have you tried work holidays, where the team takes off to work for a couple of weeks at a vacation spot? Works like a charm.

This post makes me want to work at 42floors. Mission accomplished Jason ;)

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