Don’t Let Guilt Ruin Your Holiday

Posted in executive director / vacation / staff team

Don’t Let Guilt Ruin Your Holiday

Working as an executive director, we all share a desire to do the job well, and we put in the long hours to make it happen. When the time comes to take holidays, feelings of guilt for being away from the office take over. The indecision about taking this week or next week, can delay vacation plans for so long that sometimes there’s no summer left.

You can’t succeed if you’re burned out.

Sure, we can take days off during other seasons, or fit in a day here and there throughout the summer, but it never really feels like a true break. The result is feelings of burnout and bitterness that can make it even harder to do the job well, especially in smaller, or one employee, organizations.

Time off isn’t just about you.

There are a handful of important reasons an executive director needs to understand about taking time away from the office. The first two are obvious, but the last one is a surprise for someone new to the job.

Your body and mind need a rest. Executive directors play a role to keep all things running as successfully as possible. Ignoring our own exhaustion and working long hours will lead to burn out, and as simple as it sounds, a rested body and a rested mind will do better work.

You need to model healthy work-life balance for your team. Healthy teams do not work 24/7. Healthy teams take holidays. Don’t send the wrong message. Executive directors take their holidays, so the rest of the team grows to understand that time off is encouraged, and respected.

If the first two reasons don’t resonate with a committed non-profit executive director, consider the impact of unused holidays on the organization’s financial statements. Your auditor might look at all the unused holiday hours from the staff team and record it as a liability on the next audit. That’s messy, the board will wonder if you know how to do your job, and it is completely avoidable.

Build up your vacation muscle.

All the reasons in the world don’t make it any easier to actually take time away from the job. If you are an executive director who just can’t seem to make the move to taking time off, think if it as a learned task and work on building up your vacation strength.

  1. Try to take a day or two on either side of a long weekend. This small step helps to deliver a bigger chunk of time away, without feeling like you are away too long. Most vendors, and very likely the rest of the team, will also be away during a long weekend public holiday.
  2. Try taking the exact same days off as the team. An executive director wondering when the office will be quiet enough to be away for a week or two, can keep an eye on the calendar as the staff team begin scheduling their own holidays. If a large percentage of the team will be away the same days, no one will be emailing each other, and the organization will be much quieter. This happy coincidence is a great way for a vacation-nervous executive director to build their holiday muscle.
  3. But the emails! Tame the email beast, especially if you get work emails on your cell phone. Create a temporary folder in your email program, something called ‘after holiday.’ Then as emails come in, anything not marked urgent gets slid, unread, to the ‘after holiday’ folder. This will keep your inbox clear, make you feel like you’ve had eyes on everything that came in, but you won’t be spending time reading or handling each task. After a few days of this, it will become so automatic, you won’t even notice you are doing it.

Not sure how to get started? Follow these steps...

The excitement of summer holidays when we were kids is often forgotten as adults in high-stress jobs and heavy work loads. We need to dust off our ability to take time away. That can start with one simple step, putting it on the schedule.

Like we would plan for a meeting, a training session, a presentation, we also need to plan our days of rest. If you haven’t taken a holiday in a while, now is the time to give it a try. Pick one day and get it on the calendar. Let the team know right away, so you can’t chicken out. Then commit to being away from work for that entire day.

It starts with one day. Build from there.


What are your holiday plans this summer? Have you already managed to take some time away? If you have a great idea for making time to get away from the office, please let me know. …and if you have questions, I want to know those too! Please use the form on the right side of the page to send me a message.


Hi, I'm Christie. I help executive directors develop the systems and processes needed to run a non-profit.

I learned early in my career, there is no non-profit school. Browsing the internet for resources from big-city experts or relying on leadership development tips simply won’t help when you need practical solutions to balance the budget, write a work plan, or conduct an employee evaluation.

I created so non-profit leaders never need to wonder how to do the job.

I have been the executive director of small-team, small-budget, non-profits for 20+ years. My experience isn’t theory. It is based on real operational solutions.

I love my work and I want to help you love yours too.

© Christie Saas 2023 All Rights Reserved

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