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You Earned It – Use Your Vacation Time!

2011 April 5
tags: Productivity, Self-Care, Vacation
by Andrew   

vacation hoursIt’s April already, almost a third of the way through 2011. How many vacation days do you have for 2011? How many have you taken? How many do you plan to take?

Compared to other first world industrialized nations, employees in the United States have a mere pittance when it comes to vacation days. A couple of weeks, on average. And the U.S. is a post-industrial nation, for Pete’s sake. Take those roughly ten days and spread them across holidays so we’re able to enjoy a few 4-day weekends and a week with our family at Thanksgiving or Christmas (or the major holy day you celebrate), and that leaves almost no days for an actual vacation. A non-working, stress-relieving, health-reinforcing vacation.


The Problem

Well over half of America’s workers with vacation hours finished 2010 without using all of their vacation time, further reducing their opportunities to protect their health and negatively impacting their ability to get work done. A great many of those likely did so based on one or more of the following terrible reasons:

  • They believed their employer would somehow punish them for taking vacation (lost opportunities for beneficial assignments, passed over for promotion, left out of key decisions)
  • They believed they would be considered more important or indispensable if they skipped vacation time
  • The work just had to get done
  • Their boss told them any of the above
  • They’re saving all of it in case they need it

I say the foregoing reasons are terrible. Note that I didn’t say they were fictional. In some organizations, any or all of the reasons could be present. But that doesn’t mean you should allow bad management to ruin your health or destroy your quality of life.

And, unfortunately, bad things do happen sometimes. For example, I took a doctor-ordered ten-day vacation one year in a past job – with the blessing of my boss – and, upon my return, was informed my entire group was being abolished.

Am I leaving out part of the story? Of course; but no good would likely come from sharing it. I shared what I did to illustrate that bad things do happen, life goes on, and, frankly, changing jobs may well have saved my life. And, I’d like to point out that my experience was not typical of my entire organization’s culture. By most accounts, it remains a wonderful place to work.

For many people, leaving vacation time unused will result in it accruing in a carryover account, unless that account is maxed out. In that case, and sometimes regardless, unused leave is forfeited. The nation’s largest employer has a socially irresponsible policy about leave forfeiture. It has a program where leave can be donated in emergencies to employees who apply and are approved.

But, what happens to all of the leave forfeited annually? Nothing. Nothing. It goes in a black hole and is lost. It benefits neither the forfeiter (they aren’t paid for it) nor the employer. It easily could be automatically transferred into an emergency pool for use by approved recipients or for national or regional emergencies. But, it isn’t. Using it in such cases remains a cumbersome manual transfer process.


The Cost

The economic cost of employees failing to take vacations is likely incalculable in any discrete way, hidden as it is in other rising healthcare costs, lost productivity numbers, and turnover rates. But, the individual cost is certainly observable:

  • Insufficient rest damages your body’s immune system because stress taxes immunity, and stress is combatted by rest and exercise
  • Mental and physical exhaustion exacerbate one another in a vicious cycle
  • Unrested minds and bodies rapidly incur diminishing returns in mental acuity, physical coordination, and consequently, productivity
  • Continual lack of restorative rest results in illness

Your organization will likely love you for working 15-hour days and skipping vacations, but it won’t care when the piper comes calling for payment. If you work long enough and hard enough to contribute to your organization’s success, and then you become increasingly ill, it’s amazing how quickly your personal stock value declines. Sure, you’ll probably get the usual encouragement to take care of your health, but don’t expect anyone to watch your back while you take care of it. That’s your job, and you can’t do it either if you’re too sick to work.


The benefits of actually taking a vacation

There are myriad benefits to actually taking a real vacation rather than three or four days here and here. By real vacation, I mean at least ten full days gone from the office, if not a full two weeks. No work calls. No voicemail. No email. Leave the work phone and laptop at home. If they can’t get along without you long enough for you to take earned vacation, then they shouldn’t be charging you vacation time. And, they have a terrible staffing model.

Let’s look at just a few of the benefits of taking a real vacation:

  • Stress reduction
  • Recharged physical stamina and mental acuity
  • Improved immune response
  • Strengthened relationships with family or friends
  • Time to practice existing or new hobbies
  • Time to read an entire book! Or several…
  • Time to do whatever you want and enjoy yourself

See the recent Forbes article on vacation time, replete with handy statistics and commentary from experts, in case you haven’t already figured out you need to take a vacation. Or in case you just want to read it.

Take a vacation and enjoy life,


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