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Expert Interview: Anthony Calderon

August 26 2019 / by Mari Ryan

In this Expert Interview, AdvancingWellness CEO Mari Ryan and Anthony Calderon discuss why Americans don't use all their vacation. Anthony is Chief Vacationer at Suite Break. AnthonyCalderon

Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It's my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Anthony Calderon. Anthony is the chief vacationer at SuiteBreak. Anthony received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Portland and has since traveled the world in search of new foods, sights, and adventures.  His company, SuiteBreak, was launched in 2014 with the hope of changing the perception of annual vacations and enabling everyone to experience a balanced life outside the cubicle. Anthony, welcome, I’m so delighted to have you here today.

Anthony Calderon: Thank you, Mari, it’s good to be here.

Mari Ryan: Today we are going to explore topics related to time off, and particularly, paid time off. Employers invest a lot of resources in the time off benefits that they give to their employees and yet the average American only uses half of their allocated paid time off, and when they do take time off they aren’t fully disconnecting from work. The U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t mandate vacations. Today were going to discuss the topic of benefits and taking time off to both the employer and the employee.

So, Anthony, why is it important for employees to take vacation?

Anthony Calderon: Well, it’s not just a vacation that is the key point here, it’s a matter of getting away from work and out of your normal routine and getting to a place that is different, that gives you more insight to different communities and people and food. It just expands your horizon and gets you out of your normal activity and enables you time to decompress because we don’t realize how much stress we are under every day at work, even if you love your work, which I hope everyone does love their work, but the chances are we have a lot of stress and if we don’t give ourselves time to decompress, we’re really not giving ourselves time to be the best employee we can possibly be.

Mari Ryan: I’m really curious then why is it that you think employees are not taking all of their allocated time, this benefit that their employers are providing or them?

Anthony Calderon: it really started back in the 70s. We lost about six days of vacation between 1972 and today. A lot of the reasons as of today are just because everybody is on that track to get up in the company. They want to look like they are more devoted than their coworkers. They don’t want to come back to a mountain of work. And really, technology has connected us 24/7. Even when were on vacation, we have that phone or that computer that links us to our work. Unless you take that unplugged vacation, we don’t get the benefits of vacations. So it’s really important that people not take just those one and two day weekends, but that people take a full week to decompress and take advantage of the benefits of vacationing.

Mari Ryan: It’s so interesting because it seems that … and I totally agree. The benefits of vacation cannot be over-emphasized. Getting people out of the office away from work so that they can refresh and recharge is so very important.

Anthony Calderon: Right, in fact some people say the more time they put into work -- and employers, too -- the more time employees put into work the more productive, the more work they get done. Studies have clearly shown that employees who don’t take time off are far less productive, they are at work but they are not necessarily getting work done. So, if you want to get more work done, and it sounds kind of ridiculous, but if you want to get more work done, take time off first and then come back to work and then you are fully invested in your work.

Mari Ryan: That’s really good advice. I’m curious, from your perspective what can employers do to encourage employees to take paid time off? I would think it would be in the employer’s best interest for them to … because this is carried for most organizations, they carry vacation time as liability on their balance sheet.

Anthony Calderon: Right, in fact the average company of 50 or more employees have $1,580 on their books per employee, and if you have them all in the course of all your employees that’s a lot of liability to have that they need to actually get off their books. Getting employees on vacation is important, not only health and productivity, but for your books as well.

Mari Ryan: So, what can they do, what can employers do to encourage employees to take time off?

Anthony Calderon: The top three reasons employees don’t take vacations all have to do with their employer. And that is they are fearful of coming back to a mountain of work, and that’s true for everybody. They don’t want to take a week off because then they’ll come back to 600 emails and six months of work to catch up on.

The second thing is they are afraid they’re not going to look as devoted as their coworker, and then the third is they want that promotion. They want to get up there and rise to the top. So, employers have to do more than just offer a vacation. They actually have to go in there and encourage vacations, have program set up so that employees can shadow other employees so that when one employee is on vacation the other employee can take care of the major parts of that person’s work. So when they come back they don’t feel so bad, or they don’t feel so overwhelmed.

Of course, if an employer actually -- and this is the word I would love to use for employers -- is that they have to go beyond encouraging and they have to celebrate vacations. They have to really go above and beyond and say we want you to go on vacation, and here’s why you need to go on vacation. No matter how much an employer kind of offers vacation unless they truly celebrate it they often feel like oh, my employer really doesn’t want me to go on vacation. Or, middle management is kind of forcing their employees to work a little longer hours, and so it really has to come across the entire company and feel like hey, you want to go on vacation, you need to go on vacation.

Mari Ryan: I think it would also be important for the leaders of the organization to role model this behavior. Wouldn’t you think?

Anthony Calderon: Right, in fact we have a company that before the CEO takes vacation, he actually sends an email out to all the employees and says I am going on a … his last vacation was a family wellness vacation. So, he labels the vacation so that employees understand why they are going on vacation and he has told people I don’t want to be called, I am not going to do any work while I’m on vacation, so that if he sets that standard for him then hopefully the employees will set the standard for them is well.

What’s even better is upon his return he sends an email out to the employees saying I am back from vacation, here’s what I did while I was on vacation. Not necessarily activities, but I rested, I took time to read books, I took time to explore, now I’m coming back a better person, I can actually be a better CEO and by doing so, again, they said that standard. They actually reshape culture around how vacations are viewed.

Mari Ryan: That’s exciting. It’s so important for managers and leaders to be able to role model this behavior.

Anthony Calderon: It’s really the hardest thing to do because even I had timing, I believe in this fully and I’ve been doing it for a lot of years, but even I find myself thinking I’ve got a lot of work to do right now and I should take my vacation. But then I think, you know what, the world will not stop if I am not in it for one week.

So, I move aside and I come back and sure enough the world is still spinning, my company is still running, and I am a rested, better person.

Mari Ryan: That’s great. I am seeing many more employers these days move to what they are calling unlimited vacation or open vacation policies where they take that item off the paycheck that shows how many a crew days you’ve got and give more opportunity, potentially more opportunity, for employees to take time off.

I’m curious, from your experience and your perspective, is this a better approach? A worse approach? What is your … is it even working? What’s your thoughts about this?

Anthony Calderon: Well, it’s an approach. I’m not saying it’s a good approach or a bad approach. The problem is a lot of employers they see the shiny new pennies and they say, okay, let’s put this into my company. But unless they really back it and they put a program together to encourage that, unlimited vacation becomes almost more difficult to use than if you have a standard vacation. So, we’ve seen about, really, more than 50% of companies that initiate it over the course of one or two years, they discontinue with it because employees are actually taking less vacation than they were before.

Mari Ryan: Wow, that’s actually very interesting. One of my clients did this, and partly it was a financial move because they took the liability off the balance sheet but they paid everybody out. They paid that amount out to everyone. The perception by many of the workforce was that they actually had a benefit that was taken away from them. Even though that wasn’t true, it wasn’t the truth, they could take literally as much time as they wanted, and so it was that perception. It almost didn’t fit with the culture of the organization at the time they did it.

Anthony Calderon: And that’s the thing what you said there. The culture of the organization – if the culture of the organization doesn’t back the unlimited vacation policy, then all it’s going to do is just sit there, people are going to be confused by it, and when people get confused they get nervous, they get scared, so they end up not doing anything at all and that becomes more of a problem.

Mari Ryan: That’s very interesting. You were talking about how people are getting away and being able to rest and recharge. So, does that mean that staycations aren’t a good thing? What is your thought about staycations?

Anthony Calderon: [laughs] Staycations. Staycation is a great new term, right? The problem with staycations – and I’m not saying they are not good because I do my own staycations. I live in Phoenix and sometimes I go into Scottsdale a lot during the year and just spend a weekend there at a little staycation. But the thing with a staycation is unless you get out of your normal activities, if you are home during a staycation you are still in your own environment. You’re not learning new cultures, you’re not eating new foods, meeting new people. So, you are not really getting the benefit. There are so many health benefits to an actual vacation that staycations simply don’t have because you’re not outside your environments. Are they as good as a vacation that is away? Absolutely not. Do I recommend it? Absolutely, as long as they don’t take over for your actual vacation.

Mari Ryan: That’s actually really good advice. That’s great. I’m curious, other thoughts or other advice for employers in terms of paid time off and vacations and what they can do to encourage their workforce.

Anthony Calderon: The thing about vacations is, I truly believe that they are the most powerful initiative in your wellness arsenal because the wellness has become such a prevalent part in any employment that everybody seems to have it and they all have it for different reasons. Some have it because they want to reduce their overhead and their premiums, some have it for retention and acquisition, and some have it just because it’s a great perk for employees.

The problem is you lead with weight loss and smoking cessation, and exercise, which you’re really saying to most people, you’re overweight, you smoke, and you’re really not very active. Those are negatives. We hear about that any time on the Internet, Dr. Oz and such, 10 minutes to lose weight and 15 minutes to rock hard abs. So when we get to the employer when they are saying it to us it doesn’t really resonate. It’s kind of this white noise. So I tell employers to start off with the positive. Start off with hey, vacations are important to your health. In fact, women who don’t take vacation annually are eight times more likely to die of stroke, heart attack, or heart disease – eight times more likely. That’s done by the Framingham heart study, the longest and most robust heart study in history. Men are almost 50% more likely, but for women this is the most … I mean, more women die of heart disease more than any other disease out there by far.

If women took a vacation every year, and you could reduce your risk of heart disease by eight times, isn’t that a worthwhile cause to do it alone? So, for employers I say start with the positive. You are important to me, we want you to take vacations, here’s a program that we set up to ensure you don’t come back to a mountain of emails, that you are … In fact, employees who take vacations, study show that they are 31% more likely to get a raise. So if employers use this information to say, listen, if you want a raise, start taking vacation so that you can become a better employee while you are here.

It has to come down really strong and positive and with a commitment, not just be this one week, hey, we want you to take vacation and then leave it alone. It’s got to be continuous.

One thing that a company we work with does is they put a special site on their site just for employees, it’s where employees can put vacation pictures and say, listen, this is what I did while I’m on vacation. This is why it was healthy for me, and they get these little bonuses for it. They get additional perks for doing this. And that way other employees can say, look, John is going on vacation –therefore, I can go on vacation. Look, Susan went there, that sounds like a lot of fun for me. It becomes a talking point within the whole organization.

Mari Ryan: That’s great, that’s a great suggestion. That’s a really good idea. I really like that. Just give us a quick idea of what SuiteBreak does and how employers can use that as a way to encourage vacation and time off.

Anthony Calderon:  SuiteBreak helps us all with what we’re trying to talk about with vacations in that we help employers understand how to help employees prepare for a vacation because a lot of employees feel like, oh, I shouldn’t take a vacation. So, they plan something two to three weeks out. Those three weeks are increased production because someone has something to look forward to. If I knew I was going to go to Cancun in three months there’s a little more pep in my step because I’m a little excited about that Cancun vacation. I’m getting more work done, I’m more active, I’m happier.

So we go in and show employers how to get employees to plan their success, vacation to vacation, so that when they finish one vacation they are already planning the next vacation so that they have that pep in their step. If you could go to a company and say, listen, we can increase your productivity by 10%, they might say, wow, that’s a huge amount. Well, if a vacation can improve and employees productivity by 31% wouldn’t that be a focus for employers?

We go in there and help them with policies on how to help employees prepare for vacations and how to come back from vacation without being even more stressed by their workload, and then we provide what we call wellness dollars. Wellness dollars are incredible because wellness dollars decrease the amount of vacation cost per employee by up to a thousand dollars. Although the cost isn’t the number one cause that employees don’t go on vacation it is still a reason. So, we actually provide around a thousand dollars per employee per year that they can use while they are on vacation but it doesn’t cost the company but just a tiny fraction of that depending on the size of the company.

Mari Ryan: That’s great, that’s great. Great benefit and great offering, and I’m glad we were able to explore that. I just wanted to ask, where is your next big adventure? Where are you off to next?

Anthony Calderon: My next great adventure -- well, we are going to Puerto Vallarta, just because it’s one of my favorite places in the world. I love Puerto Vallarta, we have a resort there that we go to, the kids love it, they have a Cirque du Soleil training center there so we are able to go in there and watch them train, and that’s really fun. The next big one is Croatia; Croatia is the place I wanted to visit for a long time. It’s a little bit out there, not a lot of people think about it as a vacation destination, but I encourage you, it is one of the greatest spots that I have never been to, so I’m going to and when I come back I’ll share it on my site.

Mari Ryan: I want to know all about that because it’s on my list of places to go, too. So, Anthony, if our audience wants to learn more about you and the work that you are doing, where can they find you?

Anthony Calderon: On our site, which is suitebreak.com, and that’s s-u-i-t-e-b-r-e-a-k, suitebreak.com. You can email us at info@suitebreak.com. We have a lot of people who answer all of these so that even if you have a question about a vacation, which I have this morning, somebody said I have $500 to spend, where can I go? We were able to give her 10 examples of where she could go that she never even thought of. That’s something you can’t do with any other online travel service.

Mari Ryan: That’s fabulous. Well, thank you so much for being here today. I’m grateful for your time and happy vacationing!

Anthony Calderon: Thanks, happy vacation to you too, Mari. Thank you.

[End of audio]

Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, vacation policies, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, wellness, employee wellness, worksite well-being, hr, employee engagement, employee well-being, human resources, vacation, paid time off

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.