We Could Learn a Lot From How the World Handles Employee Vacations

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No, that will not work. I leave for holiday on the 8th of June and will not return till around the 15th of July.”

That was the response from a Chief Learning Officer who we have been trying to get together for a meeting. However, it hit me as he told me this that yes, this was vacation season. But more importantly, he would be taking close to five (5) weeks off.

The summer holiday season is upon us and this is a common refrain from expats throughout this region (I work in Dubai, in the Middle East). This is a common practice here, and the only people who it gives pause to are people like me.

Vacation is no big deal

My vacations are spread out throughout the year. You know what I’m talking about — a long weekend here and there, a trip to Europe every year, but they would all be within the time frame of one week at a time, max.

I remember a recent survey from Glassdoor that detailed how many Americans never take all of their allotted vacation time for. The reasons were always the same and built around the constraints of work. But, taking vacation time is such an ingrained habit here in the Middle East that I think even if things were falling apart that t would still be seen as a sacred right and that it is meant to be taken no matter what.

The amount of paid vacation varies by country, but what I found amazing is that there is no guarantee in the United States for paid vacation. That is one area that we could learn a lot from.

Work-life balance

There is this constant chatter about work-life balance and the issues that derive from it. My thought has always been that each person has to find their own solution to that dilemma.

No organization could ever create a blanket policy that would work perfectly for everyone. What each organization has to do is to try to facilitate that process.

Have each department and their managers try to work it out with employees within a certain framework. I, for one, do like to work from home. But, I also need human interaction.

I had a job at one time where I worked from home five days a week and ended up hating it. The loneliness and conference calls all day was a bit much and I eventually left. So, that work environment did not do it from me.

Every county has its own work culture

Work habits in different cultures are paramount to your ability to blend into your new culture. When you use the phrase internally, “we have always done it this way,” it is the same as saying that “back in my country we did it this way.” That is like saying that my country standard is the holy grail.

I have known so many people who have hungered for an expat opportunity, but within a year they wash out and long for their own standard. There are a lot of one and done people out there since we all have yearly contracts. As the saying goes, “once the glamour wears off, work happens.”

Having come to accept (and in a lot of cases, prefer) some of these work habits has made me rethink “my standard.” My new network consists of people from all over the world. Our dinner parties are an education in culinary treats.

Our conversations revolve around the cities that we have all traveled and lived in and the quirks of living there. It is a rich and rewarding life experience that I would wish on everyone and anyone.

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The rewards of another culture

If you have kids, it is also rewarding because you are truly raising global citizens of the world. Their schooling, which depending upon your level of employment, is covered or at least subsidized.

These international schools are virtually a United Nations of education. The weekend trips and vacation trips are unimaginable.

A friend of mine recently called to tell me she and her family is leaving Dubai. She is an executive for a major hotel chain and her husband, who is also a hotel executive, just got a major assignment. They will be moving to Vietnam as he opens a new hotel for his employer.

The excitement in her voice told the entire story. They are UK citizens who have lived all over the world, and now the next adventure awaits them.

Rethinking the world of work

As we enter into the scary new world of work, there are lots of things that will need to be reconsidered, and not only about the organization. Basically, we will need to rethink everything.

The Western work culture was built on the foundation of the Industrial Age, and that alone is scary to even think about. The new age demographic of the workforce will speed up the change process because this is the new workforce and we have no choice but to adapt.

Whether we are rethinking holidays and vacations or the structure of the workplace, everything should be on the table because it will all have to be rethought moving ahead.

So, here’s my advice to my Western peers: take your vacation and enjoy yourself because in the end, if something were to happen to you, the job will move on with someone else in your driver’s seat.

Happy vacation season!

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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