Taking time off turns on key benefits

Why It Matters:

  • Millions of people are choosing not to use paid vacation days.
  • Forfeiting paid vacation is like donating to your employer and doesn’t necessarily translate into a promotion.
  • Truly relaxing vacations create responses similar to that of meditation, according to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Lillian Kafka tkc.profilePicture Written by: Lillian Kafka | Transamerica
Aug. 22, 2017

6 Min readClock Icon

Would you pay your employer $600 for the privilege of NOT going on paid vacation?

Wait, that sounds like a terrible idea. Aren’t we supposed to be smart with our money?

Terrible or not, it’s happening. Last year, millions of people chose to donate about $600 in work time to each of their employers because they didn’t take accrued vacation days, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s 2016 Project: Time Off. And yes, it’s a pretty bunk deal. But they’re doing it on purpose.

Paid time off is meant to be a reward, a reset, a way your employer acknowledges the value of your work-life balance. Yet Americans are not only turning their noses up to a paid day off, but they’re also shaming others who take time off, too.

If you’re one of these workers, you know your reasons. You’re absolutely dependable, indispensable, and totally deserving of a raise, right?

You’re not alone. In 2016, employees left 662 million vacation days on the table, according to Project: Time Off. These are days they could have been spent with family, reading a book, watching a play, finishing a puzzle, or repainting your living room. Raise your hand if you said, “No thanks, I’ll work instead.”

The rise of the work martyr

Work martyrs simply shun the idea of taking time off. In a competitive job market, who can blame anyone for such unwavering dedication to the grind?

“No one else at my company can do the work while I’m away. I want to show complete dedication to my company and job. I don’t want others to think I am replaceable. [And] I feel guilty for using my paid time off.” - Project: Time Off

Millennials, whose careers evolved entirely with email and internet, and who entered the job force during the Great Recession, are more likely to fall into this category, according to Project: Time Off. They’re connected, making it easy to answer a work email at dinner, and fearful, because they remember clearly how hard it was to find a job after college.

Yet the study from Project: Time Off said self-proclaimed work martyrs are less likely to report receiving a raise, bonus, or promotion than those who don’t consider themselves martyrs.

Time off is declining in popularity

The vacation-aversion trend has been ongoing for some time.

“After decades of using an average of 20.3 days, Americans’ vacation usage began to decline in 2000, and it has not slowed its downward trajectory since,” according to Project: Time Off. In 2016, the average amount of time off earned was 22.6 days, but the averaged time used was 16.8 days.

That’s like walking away from a pile of money. Except the money is actually your time to relax, connect with loved ones, and create lasting memories.

Vacation for a more creative mind?

The Mount Sinai School of Medicine likened the biological impacts of a relaxing vacation to the positive effects of meditation. That means, after your holiday, scientists could see a reduction in the biological processes related to stress. They also saw notable changes in gene activity related to stress response and immune function.

In other words, they said when you can completely relax and let your cares go, vacationing can be good for your body, because stress reduction can allow the body to perform better and fight illness more efficiently.

Plus, it can make a positive mark on your emotions. A recent Cornell University study found people feel more gratitude for what they’ve done than what they own. So, it might make more sense to buy a trip to a place you’ve always wanted to visit, as opposed to a few new pairs of shoes and take-out food because you’ve been too busy to cook.

And finally, here’s another cool benefit of enjoying your deserved time off: It could improve your creative thinking.

“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” said Adam Galinsky, as quoted in The Atlantic. Just make sure you engage in situations you’ve never experienced before, and then you can bring your new integrative perspectives home to impress your boss.

The physiological effects of too much stress

If you’re one of these people who forfeited a perfectly good day at the beach in lieu of a day at the office, you’re obviously hard-working, dedicated, and interested in career success. Chances are, you need a vacation more than most, and dare I say, you’re probably stressed out.

Certain stress can be good because it can trigger responses that automatically protect our bodies from harm. The problem with not hitting the reset button could mean you’re experiencing prolonged periods of stress, which can spell bad news for your muscles, heart, and endocrine system, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

Chronic stress can lead to musculoskeletal issues, chronic pain, tension headaches, and long-term heart problems, according to the APA. But please, if anything, don’t let this possibility stress you out. Take a breath, and while you’re at it, imagine yourself on vacation.

3-step guide to actually taking a vacation

1. Plan ahead. No kidding. More than half of workers who set aside time each year to plan their vacations use all of their vacations days, as opposed to 40% of those who didn’t plan. And the planners tend to take longer vacations, according to Project: Time Off.

2. Know the best times to book a flight. The best time to reserve a flight is about 54 days in advance (but there are always variables) for domestic U.S. flights. For international flights, it could span anywhere between two and 10 months. Keep in mind that holiday travel tends to be more expensive, so consider using your vacation days for off-holiday travel instead.

3. Create a workplace backup plan. Prepare your coworkers. Craft an uber-helpful out of office email. Make sure coworkers who have your back are thoroughly cross-trained. Communicate your expectations of either not being reachable or reserving one or two windows during your vacation to check email. Otherwise, leave it be. All of these things will contribute to you fully checking out and getting the most benefit from your time away – plus, your higher ups will see you’re a master at responsible, efficient delegation.

And finally, enjoy yourself, and especially your children, if you have them. This is when memories are made. Seriously – 62% of adults remember vacations from a young age, according to research from Project: Time Off. The majority of adults surveyed say their earliest memories were of family vacations before they turned 11.

Yes, your job needs you. But your body, your mind, and the people who love you really, really need you, too.

Happy vacationing!

Things to Consider:

  • Remind yourself that taking time off is good for the mind, body, and can give you a fresh perspective.
  • Plan ahead to possibly get better deals on travel expenses.
  • Don’t forget a camera or a journal. You’re going to want to remember this for years to come.

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