People aren’t taking as many vacations as they used to. According to this study by LinkedIn, in 2017, 51% of people didn’t use all of their allotted vacation days. The reason? 56% said they “don’t want to fall behind on their work.” On top of that, 70% of professionals admit that even when they do take vacation, they feel like they can’t unplug from their work.
Another study explains that, since the recession, millennials especially are more reluctant to use their vacation time because they fear it makes them look replaceable. They feel like taking a vacation might reflect poorly on their work ethic. This is a huge problem, especially in countries where vacation days are few and far between.
Why? Because vacations, as you might suspect, are very good for us. They provide rest and relaxation, help us shift focus and de-stress from work, and give us some much needed perspective. They’re also good for employers.
So, it’s with a heavy heart that I must implore you to take a vacation. Don’t know when or why you should take one? I’ll cover that too. This post’s all about vacations!
It’s time to take a vacation
Full disclosure: I’m a huge advocate for vacations. You might even say I’m in the pocket of Big Vacation. In fact I just returned from a 2-week holiday and I’m feeling refreshed. That said, I’m going to fortify my hard-line pro-vacation stance with some empirical data to show you why you should take full advantage of your vacation days, and why there’s absolutely no shame in doing so.
1. Vacations are good for your physical and mental health
As much as we dedicate our lives to our professions and strive to do meaningful and fulfilling work, it’s helpful to unplug from that work occasionally. Vacations allow us to mitigate that workplace stress and anxiety, which is ultimately a good thing for our physical and mental health.
A recent study by the University of Syracuse explains how vacations are good for your heart. Here’s a snippet. “We are actually seeing a reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease the more vacationing a person does. Because metabolic symptoms are modifiable, it means they can change or be eliminated.”
Lead researcher Bryce Hruska explains further:
“One of the important takeaways [of this study] is that vacation time is available to nearly 80 percent of full-time employees, but fewer than half utilize all the time available to them. Our research suggests that if people use more of this benefit, one that's already available to them, it would translate into a tangible health benefit.”
Well, that’s great news! But vacations help improve your mental health too. Psychcentral does a good job of plotting out the benefits (with links to related studies) in this article. To sum it up: vacations help decrease depression, anxiety and stress, and improve your overall mood, attitude towards your job, and outlook on life. Vacations can also lead to increased creativity and cognitive flexibility.
If you’re feeling physical or mental strain caused by work stress, it’s the perfect time to take a vacation. Getting away from it all for a while allows you to recharge your batteries and let go of that pernicious workplace stress.
2. Remember: you’re entitled to a vacation
It helps to understand what’s happening in your mind during the initial decision to book a vacation and how you prepare for it in the lead up time. It’s sort of a mental trick you’re playing on yourself.
You set up a time period during which you’ll work extra hard (in order to make up for the time you’re away), knowing full well the entire time that you’re about to have an extended break at the end of it. As a result of what some call “vacation guilt”, you’ve essentially created an illusion that positions the vacation as your reward for taking on additional work.
During that final week, before you unplug from the anxiety and stress of work, you’re in a sort of suspended state. There’s a tension between the extra work and the complete lack of work that will follow. On your last day you experience a cathartic sense of relief: the hard work has paid off and you can finally relax for a while.
But unless you live in one of the five countries on planet earth without government-mandated vacation time, you have to remember that vacation is something you’re entitled to. You don’t need to earn it (even though you feel like you did). It’s a benefit that’s there for you to take advantage of. And even if you do live in one of those countries, more often than not vacation is part of your compensation package.
Refusing to accept this reality about vacation time is why some have trouble disconnecting. And usually that’s influenced by their boss or employer’s attitude towards vacation time. Do you feel like you’re allowed to stop checking your email? If not, that’s not on you. A vacation from work should be exactly that, not an extended remote work session. Bosses, take note.
3. Vacations are good for employers, too
Employers who don’t leave vacationing employees be are actually doing themselves a great disservice. First and perhaps most obvious, a good (hands-off) attitude towards vacation increases retention. Relatedly, companies that implement the most progressive vacation policies, including unlimited vacation, recognize that it does wonders to attract top talent and increase productivity.
Vacations are also good for the overall health of an organization. When people can de-stress for a brief period and return with a renewed outlook on their work, that’s one of the key ingredients for a positive culture. Thriving organizations understand the human element that’s central to their success, and create a vacation policy that takes that into account.
What makes a good vacation policy? That’ll depend on a number of factors, including the industry and stage of growth you’re in. If you need guidance, Rise does a great job of explaining how to create an effective and fair vacation policy here.
Think of vacations as part of your compensation. When you don’t take advantage of them, you’re basically relinquishing that, to the detriment of your physical and mental wellbeing as well as your motivation to continue doing good work. Think of a vacation not as time away from work, but as an act of maintenance, because getting unplugged from work actually benefits your work in the long run (not to mention other parts of your life). Now go ahead and book that vacation.
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