Vacation, Holidays and Compliance Burn-Out

Kristy Headshot sQUAREBy Kristy Grant-Hart

Everybody get out the lemonade- it’s holiday time! In the UK this weekend is Bank Holiday weekend, and in the US it’s Labor Day next weekend. How are you going to spend your time off? Will you actually take time away from work, or are you planning on responding to every ding or vibration from your iPhone or work-related device? Do you see holidays as a time to catch up on long-dormant work projects or to sift through your in-box? If so, it’s time to recognize that holidays and time off are critically important to avoiding burn-out.

According to researchers at Oxford Economics, Americans leave an average of five vacation days unused each year. That’s the equivalent of $52 billion dollars in lost benefits annually. At the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics conference I attended in Chicago two years ago, I went to a session dedicated to compliance burn-out. It turns out compliance officers have incredibly high burn-out rates, and the people in the room confirmed that they were overworked, underappreciated and exhausted. The leader asked how many people in the room had unused vacation. More than half of the attendees raised their hand.

People aren’t built to work all of the time without a break. It is imperative to get away from the job so that you are able to come back refreshed. Taking a break enables you to return with new ideas about solving problems. But how do you do that in a corporate culture rife with overworked people? Here are some tips for taking a break:

• Plan Early and Put It on the Calendar Ask for your vacation days at the beginning of the year. Once the boss has agreed to them, it is much less likely that you will run into objections. Also, putting the dates on your calendar and blocking them out means you’ve committed to them, and are more likely to follow through.

• Remind Your Co-Workers in Advance: Remind your boss and co-workers that you will be taking time off. Do not schedule meetings or phone calls for the time you’ll be on vacation, if at all possible.

• Choose a Time to Plug-In: Ideally, you would be able to shut down the computer and iPhone/Blackberry/mobile device. However, in many compliance officer jobs, this is just not possible. So, pick a specific time of day when you will answer emails, and stick to it. I tend to answer emails after breakfast when on vacation, then I leave my mobile device in my hotel room and pick it up again once before bed.

• Use Your Out-of-Office Auto-Responder: Use an automatic email response and put an out-of-office message on your voicemail to control expectations. Add the name and email address of a co-worker that can triage problems while you’re away.

Warning: If you carry your device with you at all times, you will train your boss and co-workers that you are always available on vacation, defeating the purpose of being gone. Do not train people that you are available while on vacation.

Lastly, remember that if you are a manager, your employees will follow your lead. If you don’t unplug, they won’t either. Be kind to yourself and your employees by modelling the capacity to leave work at work, especially on holiday weekends when everyone is out of the office.

Unplugging and taking a break is good for you and good for your business. Refreshed employees come back with energy and capacity to do their best work, while burned out employees may show up to the office, but emotionally and mentally they aren’t all there. So enjoy your holiday weekend and remember – taking time off makes you better at your job.

Kristy Grant-Hart the author of the book “How to be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer.” She is Managing Director of Spark Compliance Consulting and is an adjunct professor at Widener University, teaching Global Compliance and Ethics. She can be found at, @KristyGrantHart and emailed at


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