FUNNY BUSINESS: Working from home not all Sprite and Cheetos

July 16, 2007

Being selfemployed and working at home is usually a pretty good deal. You set your own hours and your own dress code (you haven't seen Casual Friday until you've seen Home Office Casual Friday). Snack time is never far away. And if you need to take a break for the 4 p.m. showing of "Hong Kong Phooey" on the Boomerang channel, well, who's to stop you?

But that's not to say it's all Sprite and Cheetos. I'm thinking of vacations. Or, more precisely, the lack of them. When you work for yourself, at home, as I do, vacations are for other people.

It's a little like being a dairy farmer, except that dairy farmers actually do something useful. The point is, they can never get away because the cows are always standing around, licking their noses and waiting to be milked. And I can never get away because, if I don't work, I don't make money. And if I don't make money, I don't eat. Eating is something of which I am exceedingly fond. So here I am, at my computer in my home office, instead of lounging in a beach chair or fishing the Boundary Waters or traipsing around Europe, and guess what? I just read that many Americans with real jobs-outside-the-home, drawing-a-paycheck JOB jobs-aren't taking vacations either. This raises a question: What is wrong with you people? The story was from ABC News and it cited two main reasons given for not taking vacations: Workplace stress and job security. Neither holds up if you apply a little logic. I've been in stressful workplaces. We've all been in stressful workplaces. These days, it's unusual if you DON'T have a stressful workplace. Excuse me, but if the place is always stressful when you're there, what makes you think that continuing to show up is going to make it better? One definition of insanity is "continuing to do the same thing over and over, expecting a different result." I think this qualifies. Therefore, if you don't take your vacation, you really ARE crazy.

Some workers cited in the story argue that taking time off just means they take the stress with them-either from staying in touch with the office and getting it electronically, or from spending all their time worrying about what's going to be awaiting them when they return. These are the people who really need to take that trip to the Boundary Waters. And they need to have their heads held under same until they come to the conclusion that what's going on back at the office isn't NEARLY as important as getting the kayak turned rightside-up.

OK, this brings us to the people who won't take time off from the job because they're afraid the job won't be there when they return. (This would include a great many of my former colleagues in the Bigtime Daily Newspaper Business, many of whom no longer go to lunch for precisely that reason.) Seems to me that if a job is that shaky, they'll get rid of you whether you're there or not. Might as well take the time off.

Look, even if they're not trying to get rid of you, even if the stress is at least manageable, taking the vacation to which you are entitled makes sense for both employee and employer.

For the employee, the mental and physical benefits are obvious. And for the employer, we're talking about rested, more productive employees taking back some of the $150 billion-with a b-blown every year thanks to stress-related illness and the resulting loss of productivity. Viewed that way, taking time off-or, if you're the boss, insisting that your people take time off, and taking some for yourself, too-is nothing more than good business.

Oh, one more thing: I was just kidding about never getting any time off. I do. I just take it in short mini-vacations, a few days here and there, scattered throughout the year. It isn't a month on the Continent, but I do find the practice restorative, and a good match for self-employment's peculiar schedule.

Speaking of which, I have to go. It's almost time for "Huckleberry Hound."

Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly. You can reach him at mredmond@ibj.com.
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