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Elon Musk says vacations will kill you: Is he right?

Elon Musk has strong opinions about holidays, but is he right? Image: Getty
Elon Musk has strong opinions about holidays, but is he right? Image: Getty

After tech entrepreneur billionaire Elon Musk nearly died on holidays to Brazil and South Africa, his attitude to holidays changed entirely.

While on a two-week trip to Brazil and South Africa, Musk contracted a severe form of malaria that nearly killed him.

And while on other holidays, such as his honeymoon to Sydney in 2000, he was delivered a letter of no-confidence from the company board, of which he was CEO at the time.

In fact, in the book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, he went so far as to say, “That’s my lesson for taking a vacation. Vacations will kill you.”

But Musk’s reasons have also extended beyond life and death, with the billionaire frequently espousing the merits of long hours.

Speaking to Recode Decode, he said that to build his businesses, he was regularly putting in 120 hour weeks.

Asked what he credited Tesla’s success to, he said it came down to “Excruciating effort [and] 100-hour weeks by everyone. There wasn’t some other way to do this.

“The other option would have been, Tesla dies.”

While Musk’s reasons for never taking a holiday may seem extreme, he’s not the only business leader to have such views on work-life balance.

Commitment is key

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, author of The Unlikely Entrepreneur Alan Manly said one of the key steps in becoming successful is sheer commitment.

“I think work is life and life is work. And that's the nonsense about work-life balance; that's silliness,” he said.

“If you're going to work and going to be successful, you'll have to be committed.”

He said success also comes down to cost management.

“The person down the road might say, ‘I'm balancing my life.’ Well, actually what they're doing is walking away from opportunity.

“And that's a choice thing. I don't think that's wrong, but that's a choice thing.”

He said those who are committed to being an entrepreneur need to be prepared to manage the relationship and lifestyle costs of getting it off the ground.

Alibaba founder believes in the ‘996’ work schedule

Alibaba founder Jack Ma believes the key to success is to work a ‘996’ schedule, that is: working from 9am-9pm, six days a week.

Ma said workers should consider that 72-hour work week a blessing.

"If you don't work 996 at a young age, when will you be able to [do it]? Do you think never having to work 996 in your life is an honour to boast about?" Ma said.

"How can you achieve the success that you want without exceeding other people's effort and time?"

But other CEOs pay their staff vacation bonuses

The CEO of marketing firm SteelHouse, Mark Douglas, told Business Insider in 2016 that his staff get paid an extra US$2,000 (AU$2,935) every year to be spent on a holiday.

Additionally, the entire company takes a three-day weekend every month.

Douglas said the policy means staff are guaranteed to take time off to recharge and are more energised when they are at work.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has said he takes six weeks of holidays every year, believing it’s critical for his work-life balance.

“You often do your best thinking when you're off hiking in some mountain or something. You get a different perspective on things,” reported.

And founder of Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global has also espoused the benefits of holidays.

“Being better at our jobs means being better at vacation,” Huffington said in a piece for the Harvard Business Review.

“Senior leaders and executives who care about their company’s long-term performance and success need to make it clear that vacation — real vacation — is encouraged, and they need to model it themselves.”

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