It’s been an intense couple of months. Work has been crazy. Current events, both national and global, are breaking my heart. My household’s collective schedule is booked, and we aren’t getting a lot of downtime together. And then there’s all the little stuff that no one wants to deal with on the day-to-day (I’m looking at you, laundry basket and sink filled with dirty dishes).
I’m in need of a vacation. But something keeps holding me back.
I’m not alone. In 2015, Project: Time Off calculated that, if you combine all of the U.S. employees who did not take time off (approximately 55 percent), about 658 million vacation days went unused. Compare that to the European Union, where by law, every country is required to give its workers at least four weeks of paid vacation—and month-long summer holidays to refresh and restore are commonplace. Basically, Americans are really, really bad at taking vacations from work.
Why is this such a problem? To figure it out, we have to break down the myths that hold us back from taking our well-earned vacation time.
Myth: If I take a vacation, it signals that I don’t care about my job.
Fact: Taking vacations may help you become more successful at work.
Americans love the hardworking employee. We admire people who are in the office first and leave the office last, who eat lunch at their desk and work every holiday. It has become such an ingrained stereotype that JetBlue made a line of souvenirs just for tireless workaholics. All jokes aside, we have come to believe that if we do these things, it demonstrates to our employer that we care very deeply about our job.
But that may not be true. In fact, enjoying your time off may reap some seriously awesome benefits. An internal study from Ernst & Young in 2006 showed that for every 10 hours of vacation time an employee took, their performance review increased by as much as 8 percent. Another study shows that employees who left more than 11 vacation days unused were 6.5 percent less likely to receive a raise or a bonus.
Myth: Only I can do my job.
Fact: You hired your employees for a reason.
Martyrdom is the killer of all vacations from work, and it can be especially insidious if you are in a management position and believe that leaving your team will result in utter mayhem.
Think about it this way, though: If you are always there to (micro)manage the functions of your team, how will they ever grow? Taking a vacation can be a great opportunity for you to test some of your highest performers, and to give them an opportunity to take on new and more responsibility while you’re gone.
Myth: I lose money taking vacations.
Fact: You lose money by not taking vacations.
Every industry handles vacations differently, and your benefits may vary depending on the company, your position, the nature of your work (if you work in a seasonal position, for example), and so on. But many, many people fear that any day spent not working is a chunk of their paycheck, gone.
As it turns out, the opposite is true! Americans gave up $65.6 billion in time-off benefits in 2016, meaning that individuals lost an average of $748 by not taking a vacation. Here in Oregon (assuming you are an hourly worker making the Portland Metro minimum wage of $11.25), that’s almost one entire paycheck. Just gone.
Vacasa (where I work) makes the incentive even sweeter by offering employees credits to stay in any of the vacation homes we manage. Lisa Hovey, Senior Director of People Operations at Vacasa, says, “One thing we really love are vacations, and another thing we really love are vacation homes…[It’s] such a unique experience to stay in a Vacasa home, and we want our employees to understand what that experience is.”
Need more incentive? Taking a vacation would actually give the job market a leg up: If workers use all of their time off, it could support upwards of 1.2 million jobs.
Myth: It’ll be hard to pick up where I left off.
Fact: It’s beneficial to give your brain some rest.
A coworker of mine just left for vacation, but said he would continue to check his email if anything urgent came up. When I told him he should put his out of office email up and go have fun, a look of panic came into his eyes. “I can’t,” he said, sounding horrified.
The anxiety is real: a desk piled high with files and paperwork, an inbox stuffed to capacity with urgent emails, and too many voicemails to respond to. Are your eyes twitching just thinking about it?
But seriously—we can only handle so much before our brain refuses to take in one more task, one more new skill, or one more nugget of information. An article published in the New York Times in 2014 by Daniel J. Levitin encourages us to sink into “daydream mode” and to nap: Two things that go very well with vacations, and incidentally, gives your brain the chance to stumble upon ideas and solutions that may have eluded you otherwise.
Myth: Stress is just a part of life.
Fact: Not taking time off could lead to some serious health risks.
You need a vacation. It could save your life.
You may think I’m being over dramatic here, but consider the Framingham Heart Study, which began tracking the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases in 1948. It was found that men who skipped their vacations for five years in a row were 30 percent more likely to suffer from heart attacks. Women who skipped vacations for the same amount of time were 50 percent more likely.
Myth: I can just as easily spend time with my family and friends at home.
Fact: Vacations give you a chance to appreciate the little things.
Taking a vacation with family or friends is an opportunity to reconnect in more ways than you may think. My coworker Ned Dobner, Business Development Representative for Vacasa, told me that his favorite part of vacations with friends and family are, “the subtle moments early or late in the day, as well as during meal preparation that enrich your connection.”
Sure, you can bond over snorkeling, skydiving, or tours of great museums. Heck, you can even bond over inconveniences like missing your flight or getting lost. But you also bond when you’re just sitting on the couch watching TV. Playing a board game. Cooking a meal. Taking a walk.
So in actuality: A vacation from work makes you more productive and creative, and makes your team more innovative and independent. A vacation gives you the much needed time to unplug from the hamster wheel, reconnect with yourself and your loved ones, and recharge your batteries so that you can better handle what’s coming your way.
Why don’t we take more of these things?
As of the completion of this piece I took two long weekends: One for the 2017 eclipse, and one for a short beach trip with my fiance. And I can verify: All of the above are true.
Featured photo courtesy of rawpixel.com
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