Why Taking All of Your Vacation Days Every Year is So Important
With the current state of technology, we’re always available to answer email and take calls, whether we’re actually present at work or not. This can often lead to a sense of pressure work more and always appear “dedicated," available, or "on," to the point that you may feel you can never take time off.
But research shows that when you continue to work long hours without a break, you actually burn out more quickly and are much less productive than if you took some time to recharge.
A growing amount of evidence shows that scheduling daily “renewal” in terms of working out, short naps, sleeping longer at night and taking time away from work really does improve your job performance, as well as your health. We always think that working more hours and giving up more personal time, is making us more successful. In truth, it’s not. You cannot ever get “more time.” You can increase your energy and become more productive.
Employers also have to get on board to create a culture that values work-life balance and makes it easier to be away and actually take the vacation you’ve earned. In most workplaces, those who push the hardest and work the most hours are rewarded. But that work schedule takes its toll on your health and your performance. Eventually you face burn-out and that leads to turnover.
So, what can you do to make sure you're getting enough "downtime"?
- You need to restore your brain’s ability to process information and come up with solutions to challenges at work. Often, you’ll find a “brilliant solution” while doing something totally unrelated to work… it just comes to you. So, take short breaks throughout your day. Take a quick walk outside, get up and chat with someone in another department, play a game on your phone…. Do something for a few minutes throughout the day that switches you from “work mode, to downtime.”
- Take that vacation. The first step is to block out time on your calendar and get the time scheduled. If you don’t take that step, it’ll never happen. Getting away to another location outside of your daily routine is restorative. Even if you can’t go far away, taking a “staycation” will also be beneficial. Just get out of your typical routine and you’ll find you’re still reaping the benefits.
- Set a goal for your vacation. Don’t just plan where and when, but think about why. What’s most important about this time? Is it for spending time with family, pursuing a hobby you’re passionate about, learning something entirely new?
- Make sure you take at least one day (and hopefully two) off EVERY WEEK. Yes, it’s great to work double shifts and you may need to cover for a co-worker from time to time, but don’t make it a habit. You’ll be much more productive and have a much better work-life balance.
- Take naps. If you’re in a position to take a brief nap (15 – 20 minutes) at some point during your shift, you’ll be more alert and make fewer mistakes. Evidence shows that our bodies are hard-wired for naps. If you can’t take a nap, consider a daily meditation break for 5 or 10 minutes.
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep at night. People who pride themselves on getting away with less than 6 hours/night are kidding themselves. Sleeping gives your brain a chance to incorporate what you’ve learned during the day and clear away any “debris” that’s built up… making you ready to start the next day refreshed and clear-headed.
- Take time to reflect on your career. Are you still enjoying it? Would you change something, or do it differently. If you never take time off to get some new perspective, you might miss out on expanding your career into more and more fulfilling roles.
- Focus on things other than work. Don’t forget you’re not only an employee; you’re a person with interests, relationships and goals. We often identify with work as part of our identities, but you are not your job. Other things are important, so don’t neglect those. Be sure you’re cultivating a rounded life that includes friends, family and fun.
- Take a mental health day or personal day and use it to relax and unwind. You don’t need to be deathly sick to take a day off. You’ll be giving your body a rest and taking care of your physical health while clearing your mind of the daily stress.
More than half of working Americans leave unused vacation days on the table every year. Even though we talk about vacations and how important we think they are, we just don’t take the time that we’ve earned. And those who don’t take time off are actually much less likely to receive a raise or bonus, compared to those that do. So, in addition to putting your health at risk, you’re falling behind those who are feeling more creative, productive and motivated because they’ve allowed themselves to take a break. Give yourself permission to take the PTO you’ve earned.