Why You Need a Vacation (Even When There’s No Time)

Americans notoriously receive less annual vacation time than other countries, on average – but did you know that we use less of what we get, too? A Glassdoor survey earlier this year indicated that the average U.S. employee only took 51 percent of their eligible vacation time in the last year and 15 percent didn’t take off any time at all! In fact, only 25 percent of employees reported using all of their allocated vacation days.

It’s time to change this. Vacations are good for employees, and they’re good for businesses too. Here are five reasons why you need a vacation, even if it feels like there’s no way to make time to get away. (And as you read this, remember that we’re halfway through the summer, so if you haven’t made vacation plans yet, your opportunity is dwindling!)

1. You’ll do better work when you’re refreshed. Your brain power and your energy start to dwindle when you work month after month with no break. Research shows that vacationing will increase your energy reserves so that you’ll expend less energy to get your work done when you return. You’ll also likely come back feeling more creative, more engaged, and less burned out.

2. It’s good for your health. The Framingham Heart Study, a decades-long research project on heart disease, found that even after allowing for other lifestyle factors, men who took more vacations lived longer. In fact, an annual two-week vacation can decrease the risk of heart attack by 30 percent in men and 50 percent in women. But it takes two weeks off to see those benefits – a long weekend here and there won’t cut it.

3. Taking a week or more off will help you spot areas that need attention on your team. It’s highly unlikely that your office will implode while you’re away – your absence might help bring to the surface problems with processes or areas where people need to be cross-trained. (And if you’re really convinced that your office will implode during your time away, that’s a flag that you need to make some serious changes. No business should be so dependent on a single person that it can’t function for a week or two without them.)

4. If you’re a manager, your team will follow your lead. You can give all the lip service to the importance of vacations that you want, but if you never take time off yourself, your staff will assume that they’ll be judged for doing it themselves. If you want a healthy, rested staff that’s operating at full productivity, you’ll need to model good time-off behavior yourself.

5. There might never be a good time to take a break. That doesn’t mean you should never leave the office. What it does mean is that you should stop waiting for an easy time to get away, and make it work now. If you’re hesitant, think about this: If you were suddenly hit by a bus and recovering in the hospital for a month, your workplace would find a way to carry on, right? They will make do without you for a week or two now, as well – and in fact, going away now on your own terms will make it easier for everyone to manage if you ever are called away without notice or prep time in the future.












Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • Liz

    As a member of the emergency medical community I have to have my vacation days approved pretty far in advance. It is literally a matter of life and death if someone doesn’t show up for work. Because we’re always short staffed and you have to plan for people getting sick, no one in my county has had a vacation day approved in over 7 years. If I could use all my accumulated days in one go, I could have the next 8 months off straight.

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