Why Planning Vacation is Key to Well-Being in 2018

Reclaiming time off boosts productivity, creativity, and overall happiness

I get a lot of questions about ideals. How long is the ideal trip? (Quality over quantity.) What is the ideal number of annual vacation days? (There isn’t a specific number, other than using 100% of what you earn.) Is unplugging from work the ideal way to vacation?

It’s this last one that I get most often, which I find funny because there are so few employees (just 27%) who actually unplug from work when they go away. For company leaders, the situation is even worse. Only 14% of managers unplug when they’re on vacation. At the most senior levels of leadership, a mere 7% do.

Of course, what we consider “checking in” varies. Some people like to log on just to delete copious junk emails and cut down on the time they’ll spend going through them when they return. Others want to monitor email to see that nothing has gone haywire in their absence. (Tip: If there were a true emergency, work would find you.)

But then there are those who are actively working and responding as if they never left, sending a strong message that continuing to work while on vacation is an expectation, even if those words are never explicitly said (or intended).

It goes far beyond email usage. It is about how U.S. workers are wired. Project: Time Off research shows that far too many Americans have a work martyr complex: they believe that no one else can do the job and that sacrificing time off will help them get ahead (untrue, according to our data). Even worse, a staggering four-in-ten people WANT to be seen as a work martyr by their boss (five-in-ten Millennials).

Our way of thinking about vacation is flawed. We don’t value it for its many virtues (helping us to be more productive, creative, engaged employees). We fear it. And of course we do! More than two-thirds of employees say they hear next to nothing about vacation time in their workplaces. It is that silence that makes being seen as a work martyr more idealized than leaving work behind and taking a real vacation.

But there is a solution. And it isn’t some idealized, pie-in-the-sky dream. It is a realistic, achievable step that anyone can take. Planning. Employees who take the time to plan their vacation days out in advance are more likely to use the time that they earn and are happier personally and professionally.

Like the other questions I get about vacation, there are no ideal way to plan your vacation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Here are two key considerations that I would recommend.

Block the calendar now—even if you’re not sure of your plans.

It is the beginning of a new year. Your vacation days have limitless potential and now is the time to block the calendar for what you think you might want to do. Details don’t matter—creating the opportunity for vacation does. The worst that can happen is you don’t end up going anywhere. It is much easier to back out of planned time off than it is to jam it in later. Short notice? Short vacation. While 75% of planners take a week or more at a time, non-planners take significantly fewer days—zero to three—than planners at once (42% to 18%).

Tell your boss (now, ideally).

Does the idea of blocking your calendar for all your vacation for the year and sharing it with your boss make you break out in hives? You’re not alone. Most employees (62%) say they have never been encouraged by their company to plan out their vacation time. Around a quarter of employees admit to being intimidated by the idea, fearing that their boss or company culture wouldn’t approve or that their commitment to the job would be questioned.

But what if I told you that 88% of managers say that employees are being responsible by sharing their vacation plans for the year in advance? Or that 85% say that employees are making it easier to plan coverage? Or that another 85% agree that advanced planning makes it easier to approve time off requests? It’s a game changer.

National Plan for Vacation Day (today! January 30!) was started by Project: Time Off to get Americans thinking about their vacation calendar early in the year, before life takes over and fills it up with obligations. We even created some handy tools like this interactive calendar to help you with your planning.

With mindful planning we can make 2018 the year we check an item off our bucket list, not just our to-do list.

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