Why You Want Your Employees to Take Vacation

Many people refer to the third Monday of January as Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year. The holidays are over, the weather is cold and drab and there is less sunlight.

If you’ve made some typical resolutions for the new year, you may have given up foods you love, or alcohol for the month. Rather than cheery holiday cards that arrived in your mailbox in December, now the mail just brings bills from purchases you made this past month.

Here’s my prescription for battling Blue Monday. Plan a vacation. Not only will it give you something to look forward to, taking time off is good for your health and your productivity. And encourage your employee to take time off as well.

While many Americans leave vacation days unused every year, according to a survey done by Glassdoor, a career website, 15 percent of U.S. employees did not use any in 2013.

And they even brag about it, believing they are more productive and proving themselves more dedicated and valuable than their co-workers. They may believe it helps ensure job security.

But studies have shown that not using all of your vacation is actually hazardous to your health. The Framington Heart Study found that taking vacation increases your longevity and decreases your changes of dying from a heart-related cause.

And taking a vacation can actually make your more productive. In an interview with ABC News, Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles said, “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound. Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”

Recognizing the importance of time off, many companies have taken unique approaches to make sure their employees refresh themselves.

Rather than mandate a maximum number of vacation days, HubSpot instituted a minimum number. Every employee has to take two weeks off every year. The Motley Fool awards the Fool’s Errand prize to one lucky employee. The company draws a name of an employee who has been with the company at least a year. The lucky winner gets $1,000 and two weeks off, must leave immediately and have no contact with the office. And if you work for FullContact, you receive $7,500 to finance a vacation.

Evernote began offering unlimited paid vacation. But some employees were confused and thought that meant they shouldn’t take any vacation. So the company offered each employee $1,000 to get away, and “come back with a stretched-out mind,” said Phil Libin, chief executive, as quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal.

There is another excellent reason to encourage a two-week vacation. As the Turnaround Authority, I always recommend that banks and financial institutions require the CFO to take two consecutive weeks off to detect and prevent fraud.

As I write in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEO’s Mistakes,” during his absence, do his job. Sit at his desk. Open his mail. Review all of the deposits. Talk to his secretary or assistant. Just see what happens. This method has long been highly successful for CFOs, and banks have used this same technique for ages. If you don’t find anything unusual, that’s wonderful. Unfortunately, though, you might uncover a detail worth noticing.”Having another set of eyes review transactions can uncover fraud and some misdemeanors.

Taking time off is good for your health, your productivity and your outlook, and that of your employees. It’s also an opportunity for you to spot potential fraud.

So rather than dwell on the dreary days of January, plan a getaway. Even if it’s just a weekend away, you’ll feel refreshed. And Blue Monday will be just another day.

The Value of the Low-Tech Whiteboard in a High-Tech World

I had to chuckle when I saw an article last week in the Wall Street Journal, “High Tech’s Secret Weapon: The White Board.” Even though I am a fast adopter of technology, I am a major supporter of using the whiteboard in my work as the Turnaround Authority. In fact, I even devoted a whole subchapter of my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” to the whiteboard, touting it as one of the keys to success.

So I found it humorous to see this old-fashioned tool referred to as a secret weapon. What was even more interesting is that the article is about the company that developed the note-taking app Evernote. I use Evernote every day, making notes in my iPad that are automatically synced to my computer so I have them with me wherever I go. I can take photos and create to-do lists as well. And the best thing is that these notes are totally searchable so I never waste time tracking down information I need.

I loved learning that almost every surface of the offices of Evernote in Silicon Valley are covered with IdeaPaint, which allows the employees to write on the walls with dry-erase markers. Evernote relies on this low-tech way to engage employees in focusing on developing their high tech products. And it seems many other high tech firms do the same.

As the author, Farhad Manjoo, noted, “Whiteboards are to Silicon Valley what legal pads are to lawyers, what Excel is to accountants, and what long sleeves are to magicians.”

Here are just a few things to love about the use of a whiteboard for business.

1. Anyone can use it

We can all pick up a marker and draw on a whiteboard. I can’t say the same for the ability for everyone to master collaborative software or being able to share documents digitally.

2. It allows people to focus

I would argue that we focus better when looking at the large canvas of the whiteboard than staring at the small screen of a computer, having been conditioned since we were children by the teacher diagramming sentences and doing math problems on a large chalkboard.

3. It points out gaps in logic

One of my favorite ways to use a whiteboard is to draw timelines. I find that drawing on a whiteboard helps a group to clarify complex situations and analyze the issues involved in a particular situation.

For example, I once worked with a racetrack that took 18 months and $100 million to build, and just 30 days to run out of cash. We created a 12-month timeline to get the racetrack out of bankruptcy. It was ambitious, as we had a lot to accomplish for the company to make that goal. But by putting everything that needed to be done on the whiteboard, each person could visualize their own responsibilities and how crucial it was that they each complete their jobs on time so we could make the deadline.

4. It enables collaboration and buy-in

When people participate in the whiteboard process they can clearly visualize their roles and how they all need to work together to accomplish the set goal. And if everyone is allowed to participate and share their ideas freely, you generally achieve automatic buy-in of the steps to achieve that goal.

I’ll continue to incorporate the latest technology into my business. But I will forever be a fan of the good old whiteboard. It’s nice to know all the whiz kids in Silicon Valley agree with me.

Look for me November 10 at 4:30 at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. I’ll be discussing my book,  ”How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.” The event is free and open to the public. Click here for more information.

Leverage Technology to Look Smarter Than You Are

It was a great “gotcha” moment. I had been negotiating the sale of all of the assets on a receivership in another state for a month. The deal was pending in a motion filed with the court. The attorney for the other side had been dragging his heels over every development. But of course, when I go on vacation, he goes to court and tells the judge that he needs a change and that I’m not a professional receiver because we’ll have to delay the change for a week while I’m gone.

iPad-explainer-video-NEW--007So I get an email from my counsel, who is in Boston, telling me the other side wants to amend a document and they need my signature. Not such a big deal, right? Well, it is if you’re on a boat traveling from Sweden to Russian and just after I received the email, the Internet and all of the electronics on the boat, including printers, stopped working.

All technology was dead in the water – no pun intended.

I figured there must be some Internet available somewhere on the ship, and sure enough, turns out the Captain has his own proprietary system that they use for navigation.

Now I had access but how to get a document signed from onboard? Fortunately, I had an app called SignEasy that allows you to legally sign documents from smartphones and tablets. I had the attorney send me a PDF of the document I needed to sign, inserted my signature and sent it back.

Yes, it cost me $150, the minimum the Captain wanted to access his Internet, for a job that took less than five minutes. But in my clients’ eyes I need to be seen as a guy who gets things done and is accessible to them, no matter what the circumstances. The attorney in Boston was so impressed with how fast I turned that document around (and that he could tell the other side to stuff it), he referred another piece of business to me. “If you can get stuff done like that, I want you on my team,” he said.

I’ve learned that using the right technology can make you look smarter than you are. Before I had gone on a previous cruise I took some computer classes at Apple, then hired the teacher for an additional two hours to sit with me and educate me on the best iPad applications for my business. It was well worth the investment. I wanted to be able to conduct business from anywhere in the world, whether I was on land or at sea, with just my iPad.

Another app he told me about that I now use daily is called Evernote. I can make notes, take photos, create to-do lists on any of my devices and they are updated on all of them. These notes are also completely searchable so I don’t waste time hunting down a phone number or note I’ve made. I can share notes with friends on social media and record voice and audio notes, perfect for when I’m traveling.

Some people seem to pride themselves on not owning a smartphone or don’t see the use for an iPad. I would just say this, if you’re not using the latest technology, you can bet your competition or the guys on the other side of the negotiating table are. If you want to compete in today’s world, you need to use every tool available to you. And that includes the latest in technology.

Don’t you want to have your own gotcha moment?