It’s that time of year again.
Whether you like to soak up some sun at the beach, take in some culture in a new city, speed down the slopes at a ski resort, or just enjoy a quiet staycation, when is the last time you were on holiday or vacation?
If you are like most people, the answer is a long time ago. Most people are not taking off as much time as they need to be.
According to recent research, in 2015 Americans TOOK about 16 days for vacation. That means that there were 658 million unused days during the year, 222 million of them lost completely.
You might be part of the statistic or you may be wondering why there are so many unused days.
Why aren’t people taking time off?
For decades, Americans have been taking less and less time off. Most people take about a week less than they used to 40 years ago.
Even though, 95% of Americans believe that time off is important, only 45% use all their accrued leave days every year.
The answer to why it has become like that may not be so simple as there are many cultural, economic, and personal issues at play.
Some people do not spend time away from work because they feel they will not have a job when they return. Due to many of the economic crises around the world over the last decade, many people are afraid they will be fired if they take too much time off.
While the fear may be real, the data does not support it. In the past few decades, 1982 and 2010 had the highest rates of unemployment. During those years, employees used an average of 21 days. In 2015, a year where unemployment was much lower, employees only used about 16 days. There does not seem to be a correlation between losing a job and taking time off. In fact, the opposite may be true.
Maybe it is part of a person’s personality, maybe it is a cultural practice or family value, but many people seem to think that they lose their worth if they are not working. Some people are so focused on and invested in their careers, that it becomes a part of their identity. When they are not working, they lose a sense of themselves and their purpose.
When we think of technology, we mostly think of it as saving time and speeding up the process of work. You might think that this should give us more time away from work. But actually, technology has increased the amount of time we work.
Being connected to email, social media, and more work-related tasks away from the office have actually made it more difficult to stop working. Many people feel like they are expected to continue to work even while they are at home. Doing nothing or stepping away from work has become more infrequent.
Some people also feel they cannot walk away from their jobs for an extended period of time due to what they think will happen. About 37% stated that felt that they would have too much work when they got back. 35% said they cannot leave because they are the only ones who can do their jobs.
The other aspect is culture. In some families, regions, or countries it may be expected to work hard and to achieve some material or financial goal. It can be a great honor to achieve a certain position in a company or a certain level of income. Some people enjoy the status and power certain jobs or material possessions bring them.
Maybe you can relate to one, or a few, of these reasons. Maybe you have even said or thought some of them yourself. But is all that work good for you?
The effects of not taking enough time off
So, maybe you saw yourself in the list of reasons above. If you did, or if you know someone else who might fit one or more of the categories above, here’s why you should take a break from work right now, or convince them to.
If we look back at the 658 million unused days and the 222 million lost days, those figures mean that many people are just working for free. They are going to work and not getting paid for it. That also means the companies they work for are losing about US $61 billion in lost benefits.
In 2015, all those unused vacation days were not only harmful to employees and companies, but also to the economy. Imagine how many airlines, hotels, restaurants, and businesses lost income due to people staying at work. Imagine how many jobs were lost due to needing fewer employees at tourist destinations. By some accounts, the losses are about US $223 billion and 1.6 million jobs.
If you are still not convinced, then this study reports that taking time off can even increase your chances of getting a raise. People who took fewer than 10 days off were about 35% likely to get a raise or bonus during a three-year period, while the likelihood increased to about 65% for people who took more than 10 days.
That raise might be due to all the benefits of taking time off. Research shows that taking time off increases engagement and boosts productivity. It also helps to decrease stress and improve well-being. You might be thinking of times when taking a trip made things worse. Maybe at the time you thought you would have been better off at work. There are some downsides to a trip, but we will look at how to plan time off, in such a way that actually does boost engagement and well-being.
Making time off work for you
If we have convinced you that it is time to drop everything and take a break, here are some ways to make sure it is successful.
As helpful as technology can be, it can also be part of the problem. 56% of people surveyed said they feel guilty if they are not working when they have time off. 80% stated they check their email regularly when they are on holiday or vacation. In order for time off to be successful people need to unplug from devices, email, social media, and anything related to work.
If employees cannot disconnect themselves, some companies do it for them. The Huffington Post deletes every email that an employee receives while they are out of the office and requests that the sender contact the person again when they are back in the office. This is their attempt at making sure that employees need no reason to check their email while they are away and to make sure they are not overwhelmed when they return.
Do not work
When you have time off, do not work or think about work. The time should be for you to destress and enjoy activities outside of work. Unfortunately, about 83% of American work during their time off.
In order to enjoy time off, it cannot be stressful. Part of managing that stress is planning ahead, at least a month in advance. Research shows that people who plan ahead are much happier than those who do not.
Change the culture
No matter what position you have in a company, you can do our part to try to change the culture of the company. You can create opportunities to discuss your company’s leave policies so that employees are successfully taking time off. Companies and employees can also work together to help manage technology, responsibilities, and the amount of work that is left when an employee returns so that the employee can have stress free time off and return to work.
While not all trips are successful, 94% of them are when people plan ahead, go far from work, feel safe, and create relationships on the trip. While companies cannot control all of those things, they can work with employees to help create policies that support them.
Hopefully after reading this, you are already planning where you will be going next and how you are going to try to get your employees and coworkers to take more time off too.
A well planned vacation can be just the thing to improve your engagement and your well-being. And odds are, you might just get that raise you’ve been hoping for. Bon voyage!
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