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Tongues were set a wagging late last week by the news that Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott plans to take a month off beginning in May, traveling with his family, maybe going fishing, and returning to the company's Bentonville headquarters in early June for the annual shareholders meeting.

Some of the speculation centered on the possibility that Scott's extended holiday might be a precursor to his stepping g down from the CEO job at the world's largest retailer. Other analysts wondered about the symbolism of the Wal-Mart CEO being able to take such a long holiday when he often is criticized for denying employees what some feel would be adequate pay and benefits.

The company addressed the first concern, saying that Scott has no plans to leave the company and that this is the first such vacation he's taken since getting the CEO job in 2000.

In its reporting on Scott's vacation, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette notes that in the United States, taking a month-long vacation is a foreign concept. (Literally as well as figuratively, with some European countries criticized for leisure-driven cultures that allow extended vacations virtually every summer.)

"A study released last year found 79 percent of employees had access to paid vacations in 2004 and more than one- third weren't planning to take their whole time off," the Post Gazette writes. "American workers take 14.6 vacation days annually with more than one-third taking less than seven days a year, according to the report from the New York-based nonprofit Families and Work Institute."

In essence, the paper writes, there are two kinds of people in the US – those who feel so tied to their work that they can't or don’t take their allotted vacation time, and those who don’t earn enough money or time to take a vacation. And even when people do take time off, they remain connected to the office via Blackberry or cell phone and are unable to really decompress. (Wal-Mart went out of its way to say that Scott would remain in touch with headquarters during his holiday.)

Ironically, as the news about Scott's vacation got out, it was revealed via SEC filing that his annual salary last year was $5.23 million, down just a bit from the pervious year's $5.36 million. Total compensation, including stock awards, last year was $15.7 million, down from the previous year's $17.5 million.

Meaning, if nothing else, that during his holiday Scott and his family will be able to stay in really nice hotels.
KC's View:
We could be wrong about this, but we actually think that there is little likelihood that these vacation plans indicate that Scott will be stepping down anytime soon. It is far more likely that he just needs a break, feels that he's got a strong team in place to run things in his absence, and thinks it is a good time to smell the roses.

Good for him.

Bedsides, we also suspect that if Scott drives by a retail store that he's never heard of before or that looks even remotely interesting, he'll pull the old family station wagon into the parking lot and take a gander.

And if he doesn’t, well, good for him.

While we think that some will find the symbolism troubling, we actually believe that more CEOs ought to take a month off and go do something else. The notion that this recharges the batteries isn't just a cliché – we've never been able to take a month off, but when we've changed gears completely (like when we took three days to learn how to drive a race car), it was amazing how energized we felt. (Okay, we also got a column out of it, and plenty of material for speeches. But the point is that it was something completely different.)

Wouldn't it be nice, though, if Wal-Mart announced that every full-time employee who works at the company for 10 years is entitled to a month-long paid sabbatical? And if other companies did the same thing…it would certainly go a long way toward building employee loyalty and creating a workforce that would renew itself on a regular basis.

People who want to spend time with their families, who want to explore different facets of their personalities, who want to try new things, shouldn’t be viewed with suspicion or distrust.

Maybe when he's done, Lee Scott will see that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.