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Every summer, I look forward to our week-long vacation at the shore. It’s a chance for me to unplug, unwind, and just be in the moment: long beach days, miniature golf, and seafood dinners followed by a glass of wine on the deck once the kids are asleep.
It’s a great week to reconnect with my family, and I always come back to work feeling refreshed and ready to tackle any unfinished projects that are still on my desk.
Most Americans get about two weeks of vacation compared to countries like Brazil that grants employees 22 days of paid leave and Australia that gives workers at least four weeks off plus ten holidays.
And even though we’re lagging in the rest-and-relaxation category compared to the rest of the world, Americans still don’t take all of the vacation time that’s allotted to them. In fact, 54% of employees finish off the year with unused vacation days—collectively relinquishing 662 million days.
The reasons employees forfeit their days range from wanting to prove their dedication (read: they don’t want to get laid off) to dreading coming back to hundreds of unanswered emails and an overwhelming workload. And some people simply feel guilty about taking a breather from work.
However, studies show that never coming up for air isn’t the way to get recognized—but giving yourself a break to recharge is.
Top Three Reasons You Need to Book That Vacay Right Away:
- You’ll be more productive. When my son was a newborn, I was so sleep-deprived that I crashed my car into my husband’s parked car before ever leaving our driveway (true story). Especially if you have the kind of job that requires mental agility, not getting enough rest can result in damaging consequences. According to Dr. Jenny Brockis, author of Future Brain, only getting four or five hours of sleep a night reduces our cognitive capacity to the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of 0.01 percent. The good news is, the Alertness Solutions fatigue management consulting firm founded by former NASA scientists discovered that the “respite effect” of a vacation can increase performance by 80%―and rested employees experience a 40% increase in reaction times once they’re back at work.
- You’ll be in a better mood. Harvard researchers found that going on vacation has restorative effects at the molecular level. It only took one week away from the office for the study participants to report feeling less stressed, more aware, and happier—and these positive vibes lasted for about a month. When we take time to rejuvenate, the genes that normally combat stress and heal injuries don’t have to work as hard, and this temporary decrease in the levels of stress-related genes results in a natural antidepressant.
- You’ll be rewarded. I admit to checking work email while I’m away, but some people identify so strongly with their jobs that they feel compelled to work all the time. This all-or-nothing attitude is not only detrimental to your health and relationships, it’s also harmful to your career.
Up to 27% of the work-obsessed are less likely to get a promotion and 78-84% less likely to get a raise or bonus compared to employees who take their vacation days. Eventually, the constant grind will catch up to you, resulting in lack of energy, clarity, and even creativity on the job.
The Trend: Companies Are Giving Back Time
To motivate employees to take vacations, some U.S. companies have instituted a “use it or lose it” policy that speaks for itself—either you use your annual paid time off or it’s gone. Other organizations, like the U.S. Travel Association, give their employees bonuses (yup, you read that right) for taking their entire allotment of paid leave. Still other employers are experimenting with implementing “unlimited vacation” to mixed results.
Do you use your full allotment of vacation time?