The number of paid days off taken by American workers has decreased from an average of 20 days per year in 2000, to 16 days per year in 2015. According to a study by Oxford Economics, use of vacation days in the U.S. is at its lowest point in the past four decades. This is unique to the United States—companies in most European countries offer 30-40 days paid vacation, and the employees actually use them! Why aren’t Americans getting more vacation days, and why aren’t they even using the ones they’re getting? Read on to find out why taking vacation is essential, how to get the most benefits from your time away from work, and what is the best way to go about asking for and taking time off.
Going on vacation isn’t just, nice, it’s important! Significant benefits result for your work, your family, and yourself.
Taking time off a couple times a year makes employees perform better at work when they return. After a week or more of relaxing vacation, employees come back well rested, uplifted, energized, and happier. Having cleared their minds and lowered their stress levels, innovation and creativity increase leading to higher performance. Vacation lowers anxiety and increases productivity and focus once back in the workplace. All of these benefits are increased when the vacation is entirely work-free and is longer than 4 days. By focusing on your trip and not responding to emails or voicemails for a week or longer, you really get the break you need to return better than ever.
Your family benefits greatly when you take a vacation from work. Project: Time Off did a study that showed that the children of “work martyrs” suffer when their overworked parent(s) does not take vacation. Work martyrs often bring the stress of the office home, which then limits or lessens the quality of time spent with family. A vacation is a chance for you to set work aside and be with your spouse and children. It’s an opportunity to bond with family and create lasting memories.
While this is likely obvious to most people, a break from work will make you happier! It will increase your physical and mental well-being, and is particularly good for your heart and blood pressure. It’s a common mentality to think that working nonstop without breaks shows one’s dedication to their company and makes them a good employee. In reality, never taking time off usually leads to decreased productivity and burnout.
Learn from sports stars who regularly take breaks, and take care of yourself. Take a vacation!
Managers often times don’t discuss vacation days, or they seem to send mixed messages concerning the topic. Due to lack of communication, employees sometimes worry that using their vacation days will make them look less committed. However, a study presented on goerie.com differed in its findings:
“The study, “The Mind of the Manager: What Your Boss Really Thinks About Vacation Time,” found 80 percent of managers of the 500 U.S. managers surveyed believe that using vacation time is important to maintaining energy levels and making employees more productive. Not only do managers see value in vacation: Sixty-nine percent even say that their interactions with employees encourage taking time off.”
Most managers understand the benefits of their employees taking vacations and want their employees to use that time so they don’t get burned out.
The study continued to say, “When an employee asks for time off, managers say their first thoughts are how that person’s responsibilities will be covered, what tasks need to be done in advance and, depending on the employee’s level, whether that person will be reachable if needed.” However, when all of those concerns are taken care of, the majority of managers want their employees to use their built in vacation days.
Some American companies are really starting to catch on and are trying new strategies to get their employees to take time off.
While these vacation policies are not the norm, employers are starting to change their ways. Not every company can afford these perks, but managers across the country are starting to realize the importance of their employees actually using their paid vacation days.
The first thing you should do when you know you want to ask for time off is consult the company handbook and review the rules on taking vacation at your company. Find out how many vacation days you have, if they carry over from year to year, if you qualify to get paid days off, etc. Also look into the informal rules, like how employees usually use their days off—do they usually just take a couple days off at a time, or is it more common to save them for a three-week vacation? Following the rules and expectations will help you avoid contention at work.
Next, decide what dates would be best for you to be gone. Plan your trip around upcoming projects, meetings, or events at work. Don’t leave during or right before a deadline, or right in the middle of a project. Also consider your team’s workload and how your time off would affect them. Leave at a time when it would be the easiest on everyone, plan exactly how you will get everything done around your trip, and find people to cover for you while you’re gone if needed.
Once you’ve determined the dates that would be best for you to leave, request those days off far in advance. To avoid cancellations and losing deposit money, discuss the dates with your boss before reserving anything. Talk to him in person and be sure to bring up the topic when your boss is in a good mood. Present the days you have in mind as a request instead of a demand. Explain why it would be a good time around projects and meetings, lay out your plan of how all your work will get done around your trip, and show that no one else has requested those days off. However, be flexible in case he is not ok with dates you have selected. Have alternative dates ready.
Once your boss has agreed to the dates for your vacation, send a formal request. Take care of the formalities to lock your vacation in place.
The better you prepare before your trip, the less you will think and stress about work while you’re gone. Here are a few things to do that will help put you at ease when you leave.
Make a list of all the things you need to get done before you leave in order of priority, as well as everything you need to do right when you get back. Doing this will help you be as efficient as possible both before and after your trip. Give a copy of this list to your boss as well so he knows you have everything under control. Do whatever you can to get all necessary work done beforehand so you and your boss can relax while you’re on your trip, knowing you tied up all loose ends. Start planning all this a month before your trip.
If needed and appropriate, delegate some of your work to coworkers to do while you’re away. Give your coworkers all information needed beforehand so they won’t need to contact you while you’re on vacation.
Discuss with your boss how disconnected you can be while away. Disconnecting from work entirely for a week or two is the best for your relaxation, but if that is not possible, then clarify what expectations are before you go. Do you need to check in? How often? Through email or phone? Take into consideration whether or not you will have wifi or phone service where you’re going.
Let clients and coworkers know ahead of time when you will be leaving and when you will be back. Provide a contact for them to bring questions or concerns to during that time. Make a temporary voicemail message and email response saying you’re out of the office, and include the alternative contact information.
If you have people who report to you, have them go to your second-in-command while you’re gone. This person should be able to take notes for you in meetings you’ll miss, handle urgent issues that come up in your absence, and make decisions in your place.
Remind your boss about your trip periodically so he remembers and prepares for your absence.
Vacation is most beneficial to you when you completely disconnect from work for four days or longer. This means no phone calls, no emails, no working on your laptop, etc. If this is possible, do it!
Reasons not to check in:
If completely disconnecting isn’t possible, at least set boundaries. Talk to your boss about communication before you leave, but try to be vague. You could tell him you only plan to check your email “from time to time,” or you could schedule 1-2 check-in points when you’ll call in. Whatever you decide, limit your interactions with work as much as possible.
If you absolutely MUST work or check in with work while you’re gone, here are a few tips to help it not interfere too much with your time off:
Depending on what would help you relax the most, try setting more boundaries for yourself that will increase your ability to enjoy your vacation. Maybe you won’t check your email at all while you’re gone. Maybe you’ll check it just once a day. Perhaps you will take a week off from Facebook, and will only Instagram photos of your vacation. If you want to read on the beach you could bring a Kindle instead of a laptop to prevent you from working, responding to emails, going on Facebook, and watching shows on Netflix. Whatever you do, decide beforehand and don’t give in.
After a week or two of bliss, the last thing you want to do is drown in a huge pile of work. Avoid undoing all your de-stressing and prepare ahead of time for your return as well. Here are a few ways to prepare for a smooth transition back to work:
Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty for taking a vacation. Your contract provides for vacation time, that time is part of your salary, and you deserve it. You’re short-changing yourself and your family if you don’t use your vacation days. If you run a team, they will step it up and learn to be even more productive in your absence, and you will be more productive than ever upon return. Everyone needs a break! Take yours.