Take a Break: Skipping summer vacation can be hazardous to your health – and your career
What if vacation shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, but as a necessity?
According to the 2011 Work Stress Survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Everest College, 77 percent of Americans are stressed about at least one thing related to their job. The study surveyed more than 1,000 adults and found top stressors included low pay, commuting, unreasonable workload and fear of being fired. Others on the list were annoying coworkers, boss, poor work-life balance and lack of opportunity for advancement.
But despite the stress, just 57 percent of Americans use their vacation time, one of the lowest percentages in the world, according to a 2010 joint survey by Reuters and the Paris-based research firm Ipsos Group. Rather than using earned vacation time to take a break and recharge, many workers continue the wearying routine of work. This may be due in part to the difficult job environment, says Dr. Thomas Thorsheim, a licensed psychologist and executive coach. “In the job climate of the past couple years, workers may be increasingly motivated to work excessively in an attempt to prove their value and to establish that they are indispensable, believing that this will increase job security,” he says.
According to Thorsheim, other common reasons employees avoid vacation are a culture of workaholism in many companies in which people take pride in endlessly working; a belief that loyal employees don’t take vacation time; a belief that vacations are too expensive; or an inflated sense of responsibility – the idea that a company can’t function properly without one’s presence. For some, the roadblock may be even more basic: they no longer remember how to play.
Technology’s constant calling also influences today’s work-driven culture, says Jim Banting, author of “Get a Dog: Don’t Work Like One – Think Differently About Your Work-Life Balance” (Marshall Cavendish, 2010). Individuals are expected to answer calls and e-mails almost immediately. As a result, it takes more effort to switch to vacation mode.
“We are more accessible than ever at all hours of the day and night,” he says. “There is an increased expectation on us to react to communications without delay. It has left many of us feeling strained, under more pressure and unable to switch off from work commitments.”
Yet vacation time continues to be valuable. Many research studies support the idea that proper self-care builds productivity, such as the scholarly article, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy (Harvard Business Review, October 2007). Banting says everyone needs time to hit the reset button.
“Continuous working can lead to an inability to put things into perspective and poor decision-making in the long term,” he says. “Vacation helps refresh our personal cache.”
Though vacation can mean a big trip with plane rides and hotel stays, Thorsheim points out it can even take place at home – as long as it fulfills its purpose. He advises planning regular mini-vacations, while also saving some time and money for an extended retreat.
“Vacations serve to reenergize and rejuvenate,” Thorsheim says. “It could be as simple as taking a day off to lounge around the house, go for a hike, plant some tomatoes or read a book.”
For those who prefer the busier pace of work compared to lounging for days at a time, Banting advises seeking activities that are stimulating and relaxing.
“Everyone relaxes differently,” he says. “Try to look at vacation as a perfect time to learn something new, such as cooking, white water rafting, creative writing or yoga.”
If time off is scarce, take a look at evenings and weekends. Thorsheim warns that these weekly “vacations” can unconsciously become consumed with work-related tasks.
Just remember, taking advantage of time off benefits both the employee and the employer.
Taking a break from work “can be life-changing,” Banting says.