For the average American, the thought of taking a real vacation is little more than a distant fantasy. According to the most recent statistics, 52% of American workers report that they hadn’t used all of their earned vacation days in 2017, and that represents an improvement over previous years. In fact, the United States is one of only a handful of developed nations that don’t mandate a minimum number of days off for its workforce (even China grants all workers a guaranteed five days off per year).
The problem is, vacations are essential to our well being. Studies have shown that skipping vacation increases the risk of heart attacks in men at risk of heart disease by as much as 30% and that women face up to an eightfold increase in the risk of heart attacks as well. The good news is that for most people, these poor outcomes are preventable. All you have to do is take a vacation!
One of the biggest hurdles many American workers face when trying to take a vacation is the fact that our work culture implicitly frowns on it. The pressure to avoid missing work comes from all sides and all levels of many organizations. In reality, though, employees with paid vacation time should look at their days off as a part of their compensation (which they are), and stop worrying about what anyone else thinks of their plans. After all, if your company made it clear that they didn’t appreciate employees cashing their paychecks, it wouldn’t stop you from doing so.
The best way to overcome the expectations of others in your workplace is to plan your vacation far in advance of the dates you’d like to take off. That way, the organization will have time to adjust any business processes that may be affected by your absence, and you won’t have to feel guilty about being away or feel pressured to field work-related calls during your trip. Also, travel planners have found that booking a trip between 47 and 90 days in advance affords you the best chance to save money on your airfare and other travel costs. It’s also worth noting that having plans set in stone will help you to stave off any last minute pleas from your managers or co-workers to delay your trip.
Just getting away from the pressures of work isn’t good enough, however. It’s also important to make sure that you do everything in your power to actually relax and enjoy the time off you’re taking. That means that you should choose a vacation that suits your interests or that isn’t likely to generate stress. For example, if you’re worried about the impact your vacation will have on your finances, look for an inexpensive destination (Hint: Current exchange rates make Turkey a steal right now.) If you don’t like crowds, look for a getaway at a spa or other relaxing destination. Do whatever it takes to make sure you don’t return from your vacation with more stress than you started with, or all of your efforts will have been in vain.
Believe it or not, taking a vacation will produce benefits that extend well beyond your health. It will also boost your productivity when you return to work, as well. Multiple studies have concluded that the primary benefits of vacations with regard to our sleep patterns and mental well-being have a defined positive impact on both the quality and the volume of our work when we return to our jobs. That’s just another factor that should prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that vacations are an essential part of a healthy work/life balance, and that more of us should be taking care of ourselves by taking time away from work. Eventually, more companies in the U.S. will begin to come around on the value of vacation time and will change their cultures to encourage them. Until then, it’s up to all of us to make vacations a priority like our lives and livelihoods depend on them – because they very well might.