Work Strategies: The Summer Slump and Work-Life Balance

amy lindgren

There’s nothing like hitting the icy sidewalks in April to prepare you for a change. As in, I’m so sick of this! It’s been a long winter in many parts of the US, breaking records for severe weather and relentless storm systems. It would not be surprising to see trends in relocations or other life changes this spring as people take stock of their lives.

Anecdotally, a pattern I often see in the spring is an increase in talk of phasing back at work. Being based in Minnesota, I have no doubt about the timing: life is short, but summer is shorter. The worker bees, suddenly freed from their parkas and beanies, begin to think about bees, birds, flowers, and everything else they’ve been missing.

It is not a geographical phenomenon by any means. Thanks to our school calendars, Americans are set to view summer as the season of freedom. But, how to take advantage if you have a job?

The following are four ways to reduce your summer work hours. These largely depend on the type of work you do and your financial ability to weather the recess. That being said, even the most limited framework of work can have modification options if you approach the problem creatively.

1. Take advantage of your vacation. You could also start with the obvious, as that might be the easiest solution to implement. If you’ve been accumulating vacation days, it may be time to cash them out. Don’t have enough cumulative time to make a difference? Adding unpaid leave could do the trick.

There are a number of ways this plan could stall, including your boss’s unwillingness to let you wander for weeks or months. Before you broach the subject, do some light research. Has this been done before in your company? Is your department heading towards a slow period? Would it be difficult to replace if you quit smoking completely? If the answers are yes, these facts could help bolster your case.

2. Ask for a gap year. Speaking of unpaid leave, what about an unpaid sabbatical? Of course, a paid sabbatical is better, but they are quite rare. In either case, a gap year is essentially the same as a leave of absence, except that it can carry with it a sense of purpose. In the academic world, professors are expected to take sabbaticals to complete research or other projects, for example.

Whether your company would want a project in exchange for the time off is something you would have to explore, along with the question of whether they would allow the license at all. In some cases, using the term sabbatical might just be the window dressing your boss needs to sell you on his behalf.

3. Go part time. If an actual license doesn’t seem feasible (or affordable), a part-time schedule might be the next best option. For example, an arrangement that releases on Fridays can be a good break for the summer, in terms of three-day weekends. Heck, free up Mondays too and you’ll tip the scales to fewer days than not.

For this to happen, you may need to return something. For example, would you work three 9- or 10-hour days if it meant four days off? However you play with things, be wary of the request to do 12 hour shifts or switch to remote without missing a day. Those options aren’t really breaks and can leave you less refreshed than you expected.

4. Just leave it and come back later (or not). Here’s an oldie but a goodie: just give your notice and go home. If he works in a field with high employee mobility, such as hospitality, there’s an excellent chance he could land a comparable job in the fall when he’s ready to return. Similarly, your current employer may welcome you back.

Another, less drastic option would be to quit and then come back on your own terms as a contractor. This obviously needs to be worked out with his boss, and it definitely depends on the type of work he’s doing. There will be IRS considerations for both parties as well. The advantage is that you will have shifted the balance of power so that you decide when and where you work.

If taking a break for the summer feels radical or impossible to do, you can start by exploring options in writing or by talking with a friend. Expressing ideas in this way sometimes helps make them more viable.

Just keep remembering the mantra: life is short, but summer is shorter.

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