Saturday, 24 March 2012

Wasting our Vacation Days

When was the last time you took a vacation? Not that day you called in sick to run errands, but a real vacation; one that lasted a week or more. If you’re like many Americans, it’s been far too long.

According to activist groups such as Take Back Your Time, Americans typically receive 3-4 weeks less vacation time each year than Western Europeans. We average a slim two weeks (Bronson) and a quarter of American workers don’t get any vacation time at all (Ewers). What’s worse is that even if we do have paid vacation, we choose not to use it. In 2006, we collectively left 574 million days of vacation untaken, or an average of 4 days each (Bronson).

The current recession has left many feeling lucky to have a job at all, and the pressure is on to prove ourselves on the job. Additionally, thanks to layoffs and downsizing the workload is being spread across a smaller pool of employees. With so much to do and so little time, who can afford to be out of the office for a week?

The sad fact is that we can’t afford to not take that week of vacation. The physical and psychological benefits of leisure time have been consistently demonstrated. Overworked employees are fatigued, stressed, and unhealthy. Less time for ourselves means less time to engage in physical activity, bond with our friends and family, and to shop for healthy meal options. It’s hard to turn down the ease and convenience of the drive-thru when we’re exhausted and short on time.

Whether it’s a short break or a longer trip, one recent study clearly explained the link between leisure time and maintaining healthy stress levels:

Some leisure activities (e.g., vacations, siestas, coffee breaks) may serve as “breathers” that provide a chance to take a break, engage in a pleasurable diversionary activity, and consequently induce positive emotions and reduce stress. Enjoyable activities may also act as “restorers” that facilitate the individual's recovery from stress by replenishing damaged or depleted resources (Pressman and Matthews, et al.)

When we think of a great employee, we think of someone who is creative, productive, and attentive, none of which are attributes of someone who is stressed out. We need time off to relax and recharge in order to be that stellar worker. Thanks to advances in technology, it’s easy to get away and while staying connected, but it’s important not to take our work with us on vacation. We need time to remove ourselves from the daily grind and approach our work from a fresh, new perspective.

For our health and for our productivity, let’s stop leaving those vacation days on the table and start to live a little.

Bronson, Po. “Just Sit Back and Relax!” Time 167.26 (2006): 78. Web.

Ewers, Justin. “All Work And No Play Makes A Company... Unproductive.” U.S. News & World Report 143.5 (2007): 42. Web.

Pressman, Sarah D., Karen A. Matthews, et al. “Association of Enjoyable Leisure Activities with Psychological and Physical Well-Being.” Psychosomatic Medicine. 71.7 (2009): 725-732. Web.

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