I recently wrote an article about managing one’s business as if it were always for sale. One of the key points was getting management proficient at running the business successfully in the owner’s absence. But what about management’s absence?

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune points out the results of a new survey released by Travel Effect, an initiative of the U.S. Travel Association. The article references the report, “Overwhelmed America: Why Don’t We Use Our Paid Time Off?”, stating that 40 percent of American workers will leave paid vacation days unused at the end of the year. Reasons given included the ‘dread of returning from a vacation to piles of work (40 percent), the belief that no one will be able to step in and do their job while they’re gone (35 percent), not being able to afford it (33 percent), and fear of being seen as replaceable (22 percent)’.

Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, notes that “Americans suffer from a work martyr complex. In part it’s because ‘busyness’ is something we wear as a badge of honor. But it’s also because we’re emerging from a tough economy and many feel less secure in their jobs. Unfortunately, workers don’t seem to realize that forfeiting their vacation time comes at the expense of their overall health, well-being, and relationships.”

Not taking vacation time also creates a negative effect on our work performance. The article points out that ‘Living a life in which we work all the time and never prioritize recharging, simply isn’t sustainable — not for individuals and not for companies’. Other studies have shown a direct relationship between vacation time and improved performance.

While the majority of industries are impacted by the work martyr complex, the auto business (and retail in general) is even more demanding in it typically mandates long days and six-day work weeks. Those in sales positions are measured monthly on production, service managers and writers deal with unhappy customers, managers are focused on the bottom line on a daily basis, and relationships between departments are sometimes strained. All this adds to stress, which takes its toll on performance and health. The bottom line is, we need time away to recharge in order to regain our focus and maintain a healthy attitude.

Unfortunately, business leaders send mixed messages about taking vacation time. The Travel Effect study found even though 95 percent of senior business leaders say they know the value of taking time off, they either don’t formulate vacation policies or don’t communicate those policies well. Even when they take vacation time, most managers are still working by phone and computer throughout their ‘time off’. While some feel their absence provides proof their department can operate without them, making them disposable, many are afraid their department can’t function at all without them. We hear this often in our interviews with managers. They haven’t mentored or trained anyone as a successor so there is no one with the knowledge or experience to handle their duties.

The question one might want to ask is, if managers don’t believe anyone can run their department for a week or so while they are on vacation, what happens in the event of a severe illness or incapacitation? What happens if they leave for another job? A manager who has confidence in him/herself and their staff while they’re gone, will create a staff who also has confidence in themselves. In an empowered environment, if there were to be a long-term absence of a manager, the business would be able to run more smoothly.

Bench strength is an important succession factor that needs to be addressed for each department covering every critical function within a business. Without depth of management, we leave it up to chance that a department may run into serious problems without their manager. Besides, by giving your managers the confidence they can take a vacation without fear of replacement or departmental meltdown, they will feel encouraged to take time to recharge during the year. Remember, bench strength is a succession asset that also allows your managers (and employees) to recharge, rejuvenate, and perform well.