The Formula to Get More Time Off Using Your Vacation Days
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The Formula to Get More Time Off Using Your Vacation Days

Piggybacking on public holidays to create longer breaks, taking off Mondays are among the tricks

Wed, Jan 3, 2024 8:33amGrey Clock 4 min

It is barely past New Year’s Day. If you’ve taken the day off, congratulations: You have aced your first test of vacation-day math.

We get only so many days of paid time off a year. And that is if you’re lucky—one in five U.S. private-sector workers gets no PTO, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Without a strategy, you can have a generous number of vacation days and still feel like you never truly got away from it all.

Think of the times you took a mini-break from work only to feel stressed before and afterward. The average American worker with five years at the company gets 15 paid days of vacation in a year, BLS data show. That leaves little room for bad planning if you want a serious break or two, plus some long weekends and the occasional personal day.

Maxim No. 1: A vacation day equals more than a day of vacation when you attach it to a public holiday or two. Taking the day after New Year’s this year snags you a four-day weekend at the start of 2024. Timed just right between federal holidays and weekends, 15 days of PTO can turn into nearly 50 days of extended break time this year. (That is, if your co-workers don’t beat you to claiming those dates.)

Another guiding principle—Fridays off are overrated, and not just because they are peak traveling days. For a long weekend or a random personal day, there is evidence to suggest a Monday and Wednesday can be more satisfying. But more on that later.

A weeklong vacation vs. long weekends

First, some science: To really recharge, you need at least one weeklong vacation, bracketed between two weekends, research suggests.

In one study of more than 50 people who took vacations for an average two weeks, participants’ well-being levels didn’t peak until their eighth day off. A 2023 study of more than 300 vacationers found people who took between eight and 14 days off reported greater and longer positive effects once they returned to work, such as better sleep, than those who took shorter breaks.

One to two weeks off, in fact, appeared to have longer-lasting benefits than lengthier vacations. After a while, “you creep back to old habits,” says Ty Ferguson, a research associate at the University of South Australia in Adelaide who co-wrote the study. His own recent getaway—several days down the coast—went bust when his three children, ages five and under, came down with a bug. Then it was time to return.

“I should take more of my own advice,” he says.

One reason taking a week-plus vacation is important is that is enough time to actually reduce workloads. Network-equipment giant Cisco recently conducted a deep data dive on employees’ work habits and well-being, examining more than three years’ of metrics such as virtual meetings, badge-ins, PTO and engagement surveys. When workers took a day or two off, the number of meetings they had in the month didn’t change much—they just packed in more work before and after their time off.

Meeting loads dropped sharply for workers who took at least five consecutive days off. The fewer the meetings, the greater tendency to report healthier routines and better stress-coping abilities, Cisco found.

“I always believed in the long weekend because it can be so hard to take a week off,” says Cisco’s chief people officer, Kelly Jones. “I was wrong.”

Maximising public holidays

To get the most out of your finite days off, consider Gail Martino’s PTO hack for 2024. “I’m a leisure laggard,” says the senior project manager in New Haven, Conn., of her habit of waiting to take vacation time until things get slower. (Hint: That is never.) Then there is a scramble to use it or lose it toward the end of the year, with the days she does take off feeling not terribly satisfying.

“You wonder, why am I so tired?” she says.

In recent years, she’s become a bird watcher and wants to take a couple of birding trips along the Eastern Seaboard in 2024. “I spend a week in the woods, among trees and nature, and that is an incredible break,” she says. “Now I want to chart out the entire year.”

Scanning the 2024 calendar, she devised a spreadsheet of dates bridging public holidays and weekends with a theoretical 15 vacation days and four personal days. (Working at Unilever for 18 years, she got about a week more PTO than that in 2023.) The result was 50 days of extended breaks, including 9-day stretches in July and over Christmas:

A little tweaking can wring nearly the same number of extended break days with just 15 vacation days and no personal days—that is, if you get a full slate of federal holidays off and don’t have to trade off with co-workers:

The case for Mondays and Wednesdays off

Want to take a three-day weekend that isn’t attached to a federal holiday? Take Monday off instead of Friday, suggests Jim Burch, a 38-year-old software engineer in Phoenix and an avid hiker. Taking Fridays off often results in cramming five days of work into four, he points out.

“I’d get so stressed out on the Thursday before,” says Burch, who at his current job, has more autonomy over his schedule than in earlier jobs.

Delaying gratification until Monday means your co-workers have no choice but to start the workweek without you. Back Tuesday, you can quickly catch up on whatever emails or developments you missed, he says.

Then there is the unexpected pleasure of a Wednesday off. “It is like a midweek weekend,” says Rachel Blenkhorn, a social-media production manager for a real-estate investment trust who lives in Warren, Mich. It is long enough to relax or take care of appointments yet short enough to get back in the work groove on Thursday, she says.

There is science as to why, says Dawna Ballard, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert in chronemics, the study of time as it relates to communication.

“Everyone has a different chronotype,” or their own biologically driven pace, she says. A break after two days’ work gives you a second chance in the week to return to your internal rhythm. Psychologically, it also creates a bit of “slack” in the workweek, alleviating the stress that comes from feeling like there is too little time to get everything done.

However you plot your vacation days in 2024, don’t leave any on the table. They aren’t just good for you, there is evidence they are good for your career.

An Ernst & Young study of its employees showed every extra 10 hours of vacation was linked to an 8% improvement in year-end performance reviews. Another study found people who took more than 10 vacation days a year were more likely to get a raise or bonus than those who took fewer days.

Now that is a formula anyone can get behind.


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Few of the U.S.’s philanthropic foundations invest their endowment assets—totalling an estimated US$1.1 trillion—to create positive social and environmental change in addition to high returns, potentially limiting or even counteracting the good such organisations do.

Exactly how few isn’t precisely known. But Bridgespan Social Impact, a subsidiary of the New York-based Bridgespan Group along with the Capricorn Investment Group, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based investment firm founded by Jeff Skoll , the first president of eBay, and the Skoll Foundation, also in Palo Alto, attempted to “get the conservation started,” with a study of 65 foundations with a total of about US$89 billion in assets, according to Mandira Reddy, director at Capricorn Investment Group.

The top-line conclusion: 5% of the primarily U.S.-based foundations surveyed invest their assets for impact. Most surprising is that 92% of these organisations, which have assets ranging from US$11 million to US$16 billion, are active members of impact investing groups, such as the Global Impact Investing Network and Mission Investors Exchange.

“If there’s any pool of capital that is best suited for impact investing, it would be this pool of capital along with family office money,” Reddy says.

The study was also conducted “to draw attention to the opportunity,” she said.

“We want to redefine what philanthropy can achieve. There is massive potential here just given the scale of capital.”

Foundations are required by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to grant 5% of their assets each year to charity; in practice they have granted slightly more in the last 10 years—an average of 7% of their assets, according to Delaware-based FoundationMark, which tracks the investment performance of about 97% of all foundation assets.

The remaining assets of these foundations are invested with the intention of earning the “highest-possible risk-adjusted financial returns,” the report said. Those investments allow these organizations to grant funds often in perpetuity.

Capricorn and Bridgespan argue that more foundations, however, need to “align their capital with their missions,” and that they can do so while still achieving high returns.

“Why wait to distribute resources far into the future when there are numerous urgent issues facing the planet and communities today,” argue the authors of a report on the research, which is titled, “Can Foundation Endowments Achieve Greater Impact.”

The fact most of the foundations surveyed are very familiar with impact investing and yet haven’t taken the leap “highlights the persistently untapped opportunity,” the report said. It details some of the barriers foundations can face in shifting to impact, and how and why to overcome them.

Hurdles to making a shift can include “beginner’s dilemma”—simply not knowing where to start—and a misperception on the part of large foundations that impact investing is “too niche,” offering opportunities that are too small for the amount of capital they need to allocate. Other foundations are too stretched and don’t have the resources to add capabilities for making impact investments, the report said.

One of the biggest concerns is financial performance. Some foundation leaders, for instance, worry impact investments lead to so-called concessionary returns, where a market rate of return is sacrificed to achieve a social or environmental benefit. Those investments exist, but there are also plenty of options that offer financial returns.

The authors make a case for foundations to “go big,” into impact to realize the best outcomes, and to take a portfolio approach, meaning integrating impact principles into how they approach all investments. To make this happen, foundations need to incorporate impact into their investment policy statements, which determine how they allocate assets.

It will be difficult for foundations that want to shift their assets to impact to pull out of investments such as private-equity or venture-capital funds that can have holdings periods of a decade. But with a policy statement in place, a foundation’s investment team can reinvest this long-term capital once it is returned into impact investing options, she says.

“The transition doesn’t happen overnight,” Reddy says. “Even if there is a commitment for an established foundation that is already fully invested, it takes several years to get there.”

The Skoll Foundation, established in 1999, revised its investment policy statement in 2006 to incorporate impact. According to the report, the foundation initially divested of investments that were not in sync with its values, and then gradually, working with Capricorn Investment, began exploring impact opportunities mostly in early-stage companies developing solutions to climate change.

“As the team gained more knowledge and experience in this work, and as more investment opportunities arose, the impact-aligned portfolio expanded across different asset classes, issue areas, and fund managers,” the report said.

As of 2022, 70% of the Skoll Foundation’s assets are in impact investments addressing climate change, inclusive capitalism, health and wellness, and sustainable markets.

Capricorn, which manages US$9 billion for foundations and institutional investors through impact investments, constructs portfolios across asset classes. In private markets, this can include venture, private equity, private credit, real estate, and infrastructure. There are also impact options in the public markets, in both stocks and bonds.

“Across the spectrum there are opportunities available now to do this in an authentic manner while preserving financial goals,” Reddy says.

Of the foundations surveyed, about 15, including Skoll, have 50% or more of their assets invested for impact. Others include the Lora & Martin Kelley Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Russell Family Foundation, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

Though not part of the study, the California Endowment just announced it was going “all in” on impact. The organisation has US$4 billion in assets under management, which likely makes it the largest foundation to undergo the shift, according to Mission Investors Exchange.

Although the researchers looked at a fairly small sample set of foundations, Reddy says it provides data “that is indicative of what the foundation universe” might look like.

“We cannot tell foundations how to invest and that’s not the intent, but we do want to spread the message that it is quite possible to align their assets to impact,” she says. “The idea is that this becomes a boardroom conversation.”


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