Not long ago, everyone had a goal to achieve “work-life balance.” Employees set aside personal time to slow down and recharge. Families arranged long weekend vacations and out-of-town trips. From the 1970s through 2000, Americans took an average of 20 vacation days annually. However, research conducted by Project: Time Off shows a growing trend—work is taking over people’s lives. It has become increasingly difficult to tear Americans away from their desks. But research shows that there are true benefits of taking a vacation.
The Culture of Burnout (in Numbers)
Work is America’s newest obsession. The average annual vacation days taken by Americans has dropped to 16.2 days in 2015. While this number has already increased to 17.2 days in 2017, there is still a lot more to improve to curb the brewing burnout culture.
A total of 705 million vacation days were left unused by 52% of Americans. Those who do decide to take days off plan to spend no more than four days on their vacations. In a survey conducted by Glassdoor in 2014, three in four employees are not taking all of their earned vacation time.
Employees are overworking themselves by choice. There are several reasons why employees are not taking a vacation or are working while on vacation. These include the concern that no one else at the company can do their work (33%); fear of getting behind (28%); dedication to the company (22%); wanting a promotion (19%); feeling the need to always be connected (19%) and fear of losing their job (17%).
More than just the numbers, these statistics are indicative of our overall attitude towards taking a break from work. There is a need to change our view of taking time off from work. Essentially, we need to stop wearing “busy” like a badge of honor and start acknowledging the necessity of taking a break. It’s time to reap the benefits of taking a vacation.
Why Taking a Vacation is Good for Your Health
Fatigue can wreak havoc on one’s health. In extreme cases, overworking can lead to death. Here are some reasons why taking a vacation is good for your health:
Deadlines and deliverables can be very stressful. Subjecting your body to stress on a daily basis can trigger a host of physiological reactions. If you have been experiencing frequent tension headaches and backaches, heartburn and having trouble sleeping, it may be time for you to take a break. Constant exposure to stress also increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute followed 12,000 male subjects that had high-risk of coronary heart disease over a nine-year period. The result showed that men who took frequent annual vacations were 21 percent less likely to die from any cause and were 32 percent less likely to die from heart disease.
Helps You Stay Healthy
Prolonged exposure to stress weakens our immune system. A weak immune system leads to infection making it easier for you to catch colds, flu, sore lymph glands and even increases the risk of cancer. In the study, The Immune System in Cancer Prevention, Development, and Therapy spearheaded by Serge M. Candeias and Udo S. Gaipl, it was found that a more robust immune system is able to control some aspects of tumor onset and growth.
Revitalizes the Mind and Shakes Off Feelings of Tiredness
Going on a vacation helps you get that much-needed rest. Vacation time is also an opportunity to commune with nature. Allow yourself to get more sunlight and breathe in fresh air. This helps renew your focus and replenishes energy.
Increase Productivity at Work
Our brains cannot be constantly at work. A congested and cluttered mind can cause decision fatigue. Research published in the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America hints that making sequential and repeated decisions can increase the probability of making oversimplified decisions. Enhanced creativity and innovative thinking are some additional benefits of taking a vacation.
Make the Most of Your Vacation
Time away from work should be something to look forward to. Before you head off to your much-needed vacation, here are some steps you can take to have a stress-free and fulfilling time away from work:
- Have a good backup system at work. Cross-train a colleague with the intricacies and specifics of your work. This ensures that it will be business as usual even when you are away.
- Advise colleagues well ahead of time about your time off. This is especially important if you are taking a weeklong vacation. This also allows colleagues to check in with you before you go. Setting an out-of-office message one or two days before your time-off will also be helpful. Make sure to indicate the name of your back-up and the date when you will be back at work.
- Identify slow times at work and schedule your vacation during that time. Work has a tendency to pile up when we are away. When the influx of work is thinner, there will be fewer tasks when you get back from vacation.
- Plan your time-off well. Book your hotel, arrange transportation logistics, and create an itinerary. A frazzled and unplanned trip can leave you feeling more stressed.
- Refrain from checking work emails during vacation. In this day and age of connectivity, being truly offline can be a challenge. When going on a vacation, resist the urge to check your work email. If possible, leave your company-issued devices at work.
It is time to reclaim your right to take a break! Start by working smart instead of working long hours. The work you do and the results you produce should speak for your capabilities—not the number of hours you work. Moreover, one should resist the pressure to be “seen working.” Ultimately, we must remember that work is just a part of life, not our whole life. And remember, time off can actually make you more productive and can benefit not only you but also your employer.