Are We Getting Too Little Time Off? Here’s Why Richard Branson Is Right

Editor’s note: TLNT health and wellness contributor had a strong reaction to some of Sir Richard Branson’s comments during his Opening General Session speech Sunday at SHRM’s annual conference in Las Vegas.

By Fran Melmed

“You Americans are crap at time off.”

From what I can gather, that’s what Sir Richard Branson told 14,000 people gathered to hear him at the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2011 Annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas.

Damn straight.

Why we’re part of the problem

Who doesn’t know we’re laggards when it comes to vacation time and maternity leave? You can forget paternity leave. That barely registers on our U.S. work radars. We’re also really poor on the work-life fit scale, despite the number of surveys that suggest we recognize how critical work-life flexibility is to 21st century success. SHRM credits the disconnect to a lack of trust by the employer and cries out for a culture change.

But you know what? We’re part of the problem. Here are two prime examples, the first from an Inc. article, Why Nice Girls Finish Last:

Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with an editor in New York the other day, and I know that she has three kids, and I know her company has flex-time. I said, ‘Do you work flex time so you can be with your kids more?’ She said, ‘No. If you ask for or take flex time, you’re marginalized. Instead what I do is when I need extra time off, I just quietly take it.’ I think that’s good advice because anything that sets you apart from your male counterpart — in terms of gender—is going to work to your disadvantage. Unfortunately, that’s still where we are. It’s unfortunate but it’s true. I’m not saying you can’t have a family if you want a career; you just have to decide what’s most important to you, what your values are, and how you’ll manage expectations around them.”

This next one’s from an article by Cali Yost, a woman I greatly admire:

My advice would be not to get into ‘why’ you are leaving early/late or working from home, and simply let others know how the work will get done, and how you can be reached if needed. Go to the soccer game, meet your friend for coffee, get your nails done. Come in earlier, leave a little later, or catch up from home afterwards to make it happen. Just keep focused on the ‘how,’ and less on the ‘why.’”

Working to make things happen

I bristle at both of these articles, perhaps naively. And perhaps more so because gay marriage just passed in New York.

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Whether you agree with gay marriage or not, you can recognize that gay marriage didn’t pass in NY or elsewhere because people waited for it to happen or gave up when it didn’t. They didn’t keep their feelings, desires and legitimate needs to themselves.

No. People championed for the right. They came back after being shot down. Factions collaborated. And maybe most important, they made themselves visible — in all walks of life. More people now know they know someone who’s gay, including those whose votes mattered. That’s a game changer.

Battles aren’t won without a fight, and achieving work-life fit is a battle. We need trailblazers and activists. I understand it’s a risky proposition for those who sign up. they can be labeled slackers, layabouts, GenY (!) and worse.

But we need work-life flexatarians to come out of the closet. We need people, particularly those like the senior female exec with kids I mention above, to say it loud and say it proud, “Heck yeah. I go to the gym during work hours.”

Perhaps we’ll strike a blow for better performance management at the same time.

This was originally published on Fran Melmed’s Free-Range Communication blog.


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