Don't Skip That Vacation: 3 Reasons Why You Should Take Time Off, Even If You Aren’t Going Anywhere by Karen Warner Schueler
Even in our halcyon working lives before COVID-19, more than half of Americans (55 percent) ended 2019 with paid vacation days that went unused. While this may be hard to fathom, it’s nothing new; things have been trending this way for nearly a decade. But why? Why would workers essentially offer up 768 million days a year of free work to their employers?
People who routinely forfeit their vacation days do so for any number of reasons. On one end of the spectrum, there’s fear: I’ll lose my job. My workload will pile up and I’ll fall behind. I won’t be seen as “serious.” In 2018, a US Travel survey of 4,000 Americans’ vacation habits found that workers feared appearing replaceable and less dedicated, in addition to believing that they had too much work to do to take time off.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s dedication mixed with desire. Employees may have a strong commitment to their work product, their teammates and their clients – along with the conviction that personal sacrifice and long hours are a prerequisite for promotion.
In the middle of these two extremes of fear and desire fall the so-called “work martyrs,” employees who have consciously or unconsciously honed their own “busyness” to a fine degree because they feel they are truly the only ones who can do the job. Work martyrs put the job first, vacation last, even as they complain about how overworked and burdened they feel in the process. Since work martyrs often equate productivity with self-worth, time out for vacation falls to the bottom of the stack.
That said, according to researchers, here are three reasons why you still need to take time off, even if the best you can do is a staycation:
1. People Who Take Their Vacation Time Are Healthier
Skipping vacation is choosing a lifestyle of stress, even though you’ve convinced yourself it’s for all the right reasons. Researchers studying the work habits of more than 600,000 people in the U.S., UK and Australia concluded that employees who put in 35 to 40 hours a week were 33 percent less likely to suffer stroke and had a 13 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who put in more than 55 hours a week. In addition, the more you work, the more you tamper with your ability to relax when you need to. People who do take their vacations are shown to sleep better, eat better and stick to a regular fitness routine.
2. People Who Take Their Vacation Time Are Measurably More Successful at Work
In calculating the schedules that would yield both productivity and efficiency for factory workers, economists concluded that working more than 48 hours a week caused a steep fall off in productivity. It’s easy to trick yourself into believing that your work martyrdom – of giving and giving and giving – will pay off down the road with raises and promotions. But the data does not support that. According to the Harvard Business Review, employees who took more than ten of their vacation days a year had a 64.5 percent chance of receiving a bonus or a raise over a three-year period, while employees who took fewer than 10 vacation days a year had only a 34.6 percent likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus. Finally, those who take 11 or more vacation days a year are more than 30 percent more likely to receive a raise. Who knew that taking the vacation time you’re entitled to would turn out to be a formula for success?
3. People Who Take Their Vacation Time Experience Greater Levels of Well-being
According to neuroscientists, we have to have down time so that our bodies can restore themselves. People who take their vacation time to recharge feel calmer, experience more clarity and peace of mind. This sets in motion an upward spiral of creativity, broadening our view of available options. It gives us more to work with. Well-being research shows evidence that the act of anticipation – just having a vacation to look forward to – can significantly lift your spirits. In a study of 974 vacationers from the Netherlands, vacationers found that just planning their vacation before they went made them happier. The same study found that thinking about an upcoming trip before it takes place positively impacts your happiness even more than a post-vacation attitude change.
The pandemic has introduced its own built-in stressors that have nothing to do with your job. You cannot possibly recharge on a steady calendar of back-to-back Zoom calls, interspersed with drop-ins by the kids to clarify an online classroom assignment, and peppered with all those phone calls to the outside world: checking in on your mom, who lives alone across town, arranging home repairs, dealing with slow internet or lining up curbside food delivery. If a year of COVID has taught us anything, it’s that there’s more to life than work, work, work. And while COVID has altered so many aspects of our everyday lives, the one thing you do control is not only how to spend your free time, it’s allowing yourself to take that time in the first place.
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