The Value of Rest and Setting Healthy Boundaries at Work

“I need a vacation from my vacation!”

Have you ever used that phrase?  I know I have.  On the way back from a trip that was supposed to be relaxing and fun, I’m so exhausted that I feel like I need another vacation to rest up before getting back into my normal work routine.

As we head into summer with many of us (hopefully) planning for time away, I want to share  some ideas I’m developing in my new book that may change the way you think about your vacation.

The Importance of Rest and Recovery         

Most of us are familiar with the concept of recovery for athletes.  If you want to develop muscles as an athlete, you must not only exercise that muscle but also give it the rest it needs to recover.  It’s the combination of both that makes your muscles stronger.  Eliminate either and you become weaker or risk injury.

This principle applies not just to our physical selves, but to all parts of us, including the mental muscles we use in our work.  To improve our professional skills, we need to work hard AND give ourselves time to recover.

Understanding this principle, I am dismayed by the number of people who take pride in working during their vacations.  I often hear statements like:

          • “Oh, I’m going on vacation, but don’t worry, I’ll be checking in.”

          • “Yeah, I’m gone, but I’m always available.”

          • “I’ll still work on vacation. I just relax better knowing everything that is going on at the office.”

Marathon runners don’t recover from races by running another marathon later that day.  Football players don’t go out and tackle each other the day after a game.  Athletes know that to build strength, speed and endurance, they must rest their sports-specific muscles and exercise the supporting muscles.

For business professionals, this means resting your work muscles — like really, completely disengaging.  Working on your laptop while you sit next to the pool isn’t rest. That’s continuing to abuse an already overworked muscle. At least be honest and admit that it’s not a vacation, just work in a different setting.

Empower Your Team by Setting Healthy Boundaries at Work                                                                               

I understand that not everyone has the type of job that allows them to totally disengage for long periods of time whenever they want.  Certainly, there are times that just require your involvement.  I have had many vacations where I planned to totally disengage but have been pulled in by events beyond my control.  Based on my responsibility to our company’s stakeholders, in those moments, I needed to stay involved.

On the other hand, if you are a leader and being desperately needed at work is the normal state, then I would argue that you aren’t doing your job.  If you are leading a team that can’t function without you even for a few days, then you aren’t building capacity in your team.  Sorry to be blunt, but that’s a leadership failure.

Bring Out Your Best       

What your team wants is for you to be at your best for them.  This means your energized, creative and focused self. If you never take time to recover, then you will never be at your full capacity at any of those things.  Conversely, if you do finally allow yourself to fully recover, you will be amazed at how much stronger you are.

My hope is to convince you to think differently about your vacation from work this year.  Let it be an opportunity to not only let your mind rest from its work duties but also develop in other key areas of your life.  

Be purposeful about using that precious time to invest in meaningful relationships and do things that are nourishing to you.  Exercise some other parts of you that may be neglected and weak.   For most of us, that probably means paying attention to our relationships and self-development.

View Your Vacation as Purposeful Rest      

If we want to increase our capacity in our vocations, then we must get actual recovery on our vacations.  Let’s be purposeful this summer about our time away and see if we can make the time and investment into our vacations more rewarding than ever.

Here’s my parting thought: If the idea of totally disengaging from work scares you, then you are probably the person who needs to do it the most.  Maybe start by turning off your work email from your phone for just one day. Take the leap and try it.   Signing off in 3, 2, 1 …

For more leadership insights, follow Shane on LinkedIn


  • Don Whitney
    Posted June 13, 2023 6:06 pm 1Likes

    A worthy vacation should always be reconnecting with our creator who is our provider of peace, tranquility, restoration, joy, valuing our family and friends as blessings and be thankful and grateful for whatever comes our way..

  • Lew Benedict
    Posted June 14, 2023 12:41 pm 1Likes

    I could not agree more with the spirit of this message. Many years ago, I worked for an employer who expected you to either work on vacation or cancel it if your numbers were not where they needed to be. One year I did this (canceled), and it is still one of my biggest regrets in life. I will never make that mistake again. I am grateful to work for an organization now that understands how, even in tough times, to be at our best, we all need a completely work-free break.

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