The Best Reason Ever To Take A Two Week Vacation
Summer’s here and many of us are counting the days to much-needed vacations. Finally (we hope) work will subside in order for us to get a real break. Or sort of, anyway. Vacation isn’t what it used to be as we’re rarely unconnected. Some of us don’t take proper vacations at all, but opt for short getaways. We fear that too much vacation (the 2-3 week kind) will be frowned upon — regardless of our allotted vacation days.
The idea of a skimpy vacation as a worthy sacrifice or badge of honor is culturally embedded. The U.S. is the only rich country to not have legally mandated paid vacation and holidays. Science tells us that this is a very bad idea. Increasingly, studies are showing that breaks of any kind are not only good for you; they can actually increase productivity and well-being.
If your work depends on being sharp, creative, and industrious, here’s to losing the guilt. As you consider how much time to take off this summer, remember why breaks exist — to replenish ourselves. We all need to get away physically and mentally, and here’s why:
1. Burnout is a high price to pay for employees – and businesses.
It’s easy to see an absent employee as a bad thing for business, but an employee who’s never absent may actually be worse. Numerous studies have shown that never taking time off can set off a wide range of issues, from health problems to burnout. In Success Under Stress, author Sharon Melnick writes that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, and 70% of healthcare provider visits are due to stress-related conditions.
Employee vacations have a precise ending; physical and mental health problems do not.
2. People report feeling better and ready for work after some time off.
In an ABC News article, clinical psychologist Francine Lederer observes, “most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation.” Lederer calls the impact of breaks on mental health “profound.” Employees also report feeling more creative after they’ve disconnected from work.
In addition, that post-vacation mentality reduces conflict and tension in the workplace. Tony Schwartz is the founder of The Energy Project, an organization that aims to increase both our productivity and our well-being at work. When in the throes of establishing his business, Schwartz noticed that “the intensity of demand had begun to wear [my employees] down, too, and it showed up in a collective tendency to be more emotionally reactive — shorter and sharper — and more willing to settle for an easy solution rather than do the hard work necessary to get the best result.”
These problems only made Schwartz more certain of how vital vacation time can be. He suggests that people use every vacation day they have.
3. Vacations help us manage stress now – and in the future.
Whether or not we take full advantage of our vacation days – and statistics show that most of us don’t – we can acknowledge that vacations are an important way for people to relax and recharge their batteries. But there’s more to it than that. Psychologist Deborah Mulhern suggests that not taking time off can make it harder for our minds and bodies to relax now – and from now on. Mulhern says, “the neural connections that produce feelings of calm and peacefulness become weaker, making it actually more difficult to shift into less-stressed modes.”
With the amount of stress we carry, we must cultivate resiliency.
4. Vacations are best, but all breaks are important.
Studies have shown that the human mind does better working for short, intense periods of time, and then taking a quick break. Continuous work can actually cause people to feel blocked and unable to find solutions or perform their jobs well. In an article for The New York Times, Schwartz explains: “during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals.”
If you truly can’t take defined vacations, incorporate small breaks in your day. Go to lunch with a friend, or close your office door and take a few deep breaths. Or surf the Internet for ten minutes! A Wall Street Journal article discussed research that those taking a Web-surfing “rest break” were significantly more productive and effective at tasks and reported lower levels of mental exhaustion and boredom with higher levels of engagement.
Are you planning a real, disconnected vacation this year? What are your tricks? Comment here or @kristihedges.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
This article also appears on Forbes.com. (Image by Sura Nualpradid.)
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