It is an annual American tradition – the two week summer vacation. Whether it’s a family crossing the country in their station wagon on their way to Wally World, or a young backpacker trekking through Europe on a micro-thin budget, American workers have always looked forward to their vacations as a welcome and deserved respite from work.
The problem is many Americans are not taking the vacation days they’ve earned. According to Project: Time Off, American workers left 658 million vacation days unused last year, and a whopping 25% took no vacation days at all.
When surveyed about why they aren’t taking the vacation time to which they are entitled, American workers have a variety of explanations. In a survey conducted by Bankrate:
Of course, the American work ethic is legendary. But in today’s hyper-competitive workplace, many employees believe that if they utilize all their vacation time, they will appear to be “less committed” to their careers by their supervisors or co-workers. Also, many employees believe they can’t take a vacation because when they return from time off, they will be buried under an avalanche of work that went undone in their absence.
Though American workers are free to take, or not take, their earned vacation days, those who aren’t utilizing them a missing a very important point – vacations are good for you, and they likely make you more productive as well.
According to Project: Time Off, workers who took 11 or more vacation days were more likely to have received a raise or a bonus in the previous three years than workers who took 10 or fewer days.
There is also compelling research that suggests that spending time away from work not only increases an employee’s productivity, it also is crucial to maintain their physical, mental and emotional health.
In a trial conducted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 12,000 men with a high risk for coronary heart disease were tracked over a nine-year period. The study found that “such men who take frequent annual vacations were 21 percent less likely to die from any cause, and were 32 percent less likely to die from heart disease.”
Similarly, the Framingham Heart Study revealed that men who didn’t take a vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks compared to men who did take time off. And women who took a vacation only once every six years were nearly eight times more likely to develop heart disease, or have a heart attack, compared to women who vacationed at least twice a year.
In addition, it appears that vacations also help to decrease depression and lessen stress.
In a study of 1,500 women in rural Wisconsin conducted by the Marshfield Clinic, it found that those who vacationed less often than once every two years were more likely to suffer from depression and increased stress than women who took vacations at least twice a year.
Also, the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind Body Center surveyed some 1,400 individuals and found that leisure activities – including taking vacations – contributed to significantly less incidents of depression. It also concluded that vacationing was a factor in lower blood pressure and smaller waistlines, due to lower levels of cortisol in the body.
Even if you don’t have the money to take an extended vacation, try taking time away from work in 2-3 day increments or maybe several long weekends throughout the year. Experts say that even short and frequent breaks away from the office can still have a big impact on an employee’s well-being.
Also, some people are finding it valuable to take time off but not go anywhere, to remain in their local area. This phenomenon has become known as taking a “staycation”. Perhaps they will take day trips in their area or simply stay at home and take advantage of things that they don't have time to while they're working.
If you’re convinced that you should take full advantage of all the vacation days you’ve earned, then there are a few best practices that you should follow when scheduling your time away from work:
It might seem challenging to take time off work for an extended period, but it is an invaluable way to recharge and reinvigorate your life. And over time, that can only be good for your career.
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