Working hard and hitting deadlines are key to a successful career. But so is taking time off.
Many of us have put off using our vacation days. We want to be productive and indispensable to avoid potential downsizing, especially when working from home or facing economic uncertainty. Stress about falling behind leads us to ignore the voice in our heads saying, “I need a vacation.”
As hustle culture increases, more and more people are feeling unable or choosing not to take their vacation days. From 1976 to 2000, working Americans took off an average of more than 20 days per year.
In 2016, that number dropped to 16 days. And by 2017, only half of Americans used all their allotted vacation time in the year. Even though they were afforded time off, they chose to stay at their desks.
But taking time to rest and recover is essential for personal wellness and job performance. Studies have shown that downtime benefits both physical and mental health. Reasons to take a vacation include lower stress, less risk of heart disease, a more positive outlook, and the energy to work toward your goals.
If you’re hoping to impress your boss or chasing a promotion, your career path can benefit from time away to rest and recharge. More importantly, you need to take care of yourself — and that means avoiding the burnout that comes with overworking.
Why taking a vacation is important
Human beings aren’t built to work non-stop. Our brains and bodies require rest and relaxation to function at peak efficiency.
Unfortunately, modern work habits have reduced our ability to detach from professional life. Remote work and constant incoming emails mean we’re often available for work no matter where we are or the time of day.
Workers are having more difficulty than ever setting professional boundaries — in fact, 25% of Millennials and Gen Zs regularly check in with work when they’re on vacation.
Not shutting the door on work at the end of the day means you’re bringing stress home when you should be relaxing. Employees expected to be on-call in their off-hours can experience higher psychological distress and emotional exhaustion levels.
And prolonged stress can lead to serious health problems, like heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. The effects are so alarming that the World Health Organization has labeled working 55 hours or more per week as a significant health hazard.
Long stretches without vacation time could force you into a situation where you have no choice but to call in sick to the office or take medical leave to recover from the negative outcomes of overworking.
Taking time off can address chronic stress. Researchers have suggested that even one annual vacation could help reduce your risk of heart disease. And you don’t have to travel abroad to enjoy the benefits of a holiday — staycations are also helpful at cutting the effects of workday stress.
Reasons to take a vacation that go beyond your health
Whether taking on an international adventure or enjoying the peace and tranquility of a quiet week at home, the benefits of regular vacation time go beyond safeguarding your mental and physical health. Here are some ways vacation time can positively impact other areas of your life:
1. Increase productivity
You might think that going on vacation would grind your workflow to a halt, but you’re actually more productive in the lead-up to your planned time off and upon return to the office. When you’re working in anticipation of getting away, completing the final lists of tasks before take-off feels easier. You can then forge ahead with a clear mind and renewed energy when you’re back at work.
2. Open new perspectives
Exposing yourself to new cultures, environments, and people can expand your point of view. Time away from the office can be an unstructured education that helps you develop a fresh perspective and approach to your job and life.
When you’re trying something new, like traveling to a foreign country or picking up a hobby, the challenges are vastly different from your typical day-to-day, pushing you to learn and grow in unfamiliar ways.
If your personal development feels stagnant because of the day-in, day-out grind of work, using your vacation to seek out new perspectives and skills might be the change you need.
3. Encourage bonding
Overworking steals focus from friends and family. You’re stressed out, tired, and irritable, none of which is conducive to a happy home life. Taking a regular holiday reduces stress and allows you to give some much-needed attention to those around you and prioritize your social health.
4. Stimulate creative thinking
If you’re looking at the same cubicle every day, it could stifle your ability to think creatively. Getting out into the world or spending time away from your workspace reignites the visionary spark inside you. You’ll return to work inspired and ready to apply fresh thinking to your professional challenges.
5. Generate anticipation
When you’re facing a challenging period at work, nothing sees you through like anticipating a reward — like a planned vacation. You’ll be better prepared to power through and complete a taxing project with something to look forward to, like putting your feet up for a well-deserved rest, thanks to the power of extrinsic motivation.
6. Improve your mood
Working comes with stress, pressure, and anxiety that can leave you feeling depleted and irritated by the end of the week. Vacation time offers a reprieve from the downsides of being a busy professional and allows you to rebuild your positive outlook. You need time and rest to recharge and stave off the symptoms of burnout.
7. Boost satisfaction
The positive feelings associated with going on vacation can keep you refreshed after returning to the office. Improved work-life balance, reduced stress and anxiety, and a general sense of well-being all contribute to your happiness at your desk and at home.
Whether you have unlimited PTO or a set number of vacation days, you owe it to yourself to take advantage of what your company offers.
Signs you need to take a vacation
It’s normal to feel hesitant about taking time off from work. The last thing you want is to create stress for your team members or come back to the office to face heaps of missed emails. But, at some point, you’ll need to take time off — and that’s okay.
Burnout is insidious. You may not realize you’re in trouble until you begin to feel the worst of its effects. If you find yourself experiencing any of these cues, it might be time to consider talking to a travel agent:
- You’re constantly thinking about work. It’s always on your mind, but when you’re on the job, you have difficulty concentrating and mistakes slip through. The result is more stress and anxiety that bleeds into your life outside the office.
- You’re having trouble sleeping. If you can’t fall asleep or are waking up before your alarm, it may be time to take a break. The fatigue will impact the quality of your work, adding to your stress.
- You never feel like there’s enough time. If you’re beginning to feel like there aren’t enough hours in the week to finish your to-do list and work’s piling up without enough time to finish everything, you’re ripe for burnout.
- You feel trapped. No matter how much you love what you do, you might be going into the office or logging in on Monday morning because you have to, not because you want to. You don’t want to quit your job, but you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed and claustrophobic when you clock in.
- You can’t remember the last time you laughed. If it’s been a while, you’ll find it harder to cope with challenging work situations. You need to do something to help get your good humor back — and that means taking a break.
- Your relationships are suffering. Whether it’s an ever-growing list of missed family commitments, bad moods and irritability, or poor coping strategies, your loved ones might feel the strain. You need downtime to rest and reconnect.
Some of these signs may be hard to face or a symptom of a larger problem that requires professional help. If you think that’s the case, see a mental health professional to identify the cause and create a proper plan to improve your well-being.
Enjoy your time off
No matter how much you need it or how generous the policy is, asking for time off can be intimidating. Here’s how to smooth the path with your boss, reduce your co-workers’ stress levels, and ensure you get the most out of your time away.
- Plan ahead. Speak with your supervisor and co-workers about upcoming projects, then make a plan to complete as much as possible before your departure. Communicate what is and isn’t possible to wrap up before you leave. This way, everyone will know what to expect and won’t be caught off guard by your absence or their temporary responsibilities.
- Take at least a week off. It’s going to take a few days to stop thinking about the office, so work some space into your plans to give your brain a proper chance to get into vacation mode.
- Get away. Even if you’re planning a staycation, make sure you get out for a change of scenery. Explore a new hiking trail or visit a museum you’ve never been to. Otherwise, you could spend your entire vacation working on chores or looking at your remote work setup and fretting about your work responsibilities.
- Onboard your co-workers. Find out which of your teammates will cover you while you’re gone. Spend some time making them familiar with the ins and outs of your job, the little tricks that make things easier, and the best way to handle demanding work. The more prepared they are, the less you’ll worry while away.
- Don’t look at anything work-related. Turn off your phone. Don’t answer any emails. Sign out of any work-related apps to avoid seeing notifications. The point of your vacation is to unplug from work — you can’t do that if your co-workers can still get a hold of you. If turning off notifications doesn’t do it, delete your job-related apps and reinstall them when you return.
Get your vacation off the ground
Time away from work is an integral part of a healthy work-life balance. You need a break to be a professional and a better human being. Without rest, you can lose sight of who you are outside of work — and even put your health in danger.
Take advantage of every minute of paid time off your company offers. It’s not an imposition — it’s a valuable perk that comes in exchange for all your hard work. You have valid reasons to take a vacation. Make sure you enjoy it.