Do not leave unused vacation days on the table

I look forward to the time each year when I figure out where to go for vacation.  My heart flutters with excitement as I plot which destination we get to visit for the “big” vacation of the year.  Every year I make sure to take a big trip as a family and plan some weekend trips to help us relax and unwind.  Also, because we have family outside of Colorado, there are years when we need to travel to them so we can spend the holidays with family.  That’s another trip I look forward to planning! 

Being an entrepreneur, I set the number of vacation days to take each year and I make sure that I take them!  Even when I was working for corporate, I make it a point to use my vacation days and not leave any days unused unless they can roll forward to the following year.   If I couldn’t get away, I would use my vacation days to stay home and plan a little staycation.  Being off from work and staying in town was actually fun as I get to visit and enjoy local places like the zoo or the museum and do things I’ve always wanted to do but can’t because I was at work.

I always thought that everyone took advantage of their time off.  I was surprised to learn that more and more Americans end up not taking their vacation days.  Research shows that Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world so it’s harder for me to understand why some of us don’t use the vacation time off we are entitled to.  We seem to work longer days.  I see more and more people working way after their retirement age making it more important for us to take that much deserved time-off to de-stress, relax and unwind.

You hear it all the time— American workers do not get as much vacation days as workers from other countries.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 76 percent of private industry workers (who make up 84.7 percent of all workers) receive paid vacation days. Because the United States Department of Labor does not provide a legal minimum for paid annual leave it is left to the employer to decide if they would provide paid vacation benefits and how many.  With no mandated law as far as vacation benefits, there are about 28 million Americans who don’t get any paid vacations or paid holidays.  If employers decide to offer vacation benefits, after one year of employment, their workers were granted 10 days of paid vacation, on average.  The number of vacation days grows as years of tenure with an employer increase. Normally you’ll find that the average American worker with five years of experience at a company was given 15 days of paid vacation and the average American worker with 20 years of experience was given 20 paid vacation days. 

If you are one of the lucky ones who have vacation benefits, wouldn’t you want to take advantage of this seemingly valuable perk given how little it is afforded to hardworking American workers?  Do you need some arm twisting and a bit more convincing as to why you should use and take every vacation day you are entitled to? If I can’t convince you, then maybe one of these reasons why vacations are good for you will.

  • Taking a vacation is known to help you de-stress. Vacations help relieve and get rid of chronic stress that can be destructive to our bodies.  Stress produces hormones like cortisol and epinephrine responsible for the fight and flight response that is supposed to help us but in our current modern society can be more destructive than helping us to be safe.  Taking a break from the constant high levels of these hormones and a chance to repair some of the damage is what taking a break by going on vacation can accomplish.
  • Vacations help maintains focus. Studies also show that chronic stress can affect the part of the brain that inhibits goal-directed activities and causes problems with memory.  Working continuously without taking a break can result to problems concentrating and can make you feel blocked and distracted.  Surveys show that most people who take vacations regularly come back feeling energized and more ready to face and tackle the tasks at hand.
  • Vacations are good for your heart. There are long-term studies in both men and women that show vacations can reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attack. We all know that stress is one of the major causes of heart disease and high blood pressure.  We already know that vacations can relieve stress so less or no stress can only be good for your heart.
  • Vacations make you healthier. Stress and its adrenal dysfunction can affect your immune system and make you susceptible to numerous illnesses increasing your chance of getting infections like colds and the flu as well as more serious conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.  A recent survey found that people who take regular vacations say that they come back feeling healthier.
  • Vacations can also make you a happier person. Neuroscientists have found the brain structure to be altered by chronic exposure to stress hormones leading to depression and anxiety.   There is a research that shows women who do not take regular vacations were three times more likely to be depressed and anxious supporting the survey that people who vacation regularly reported feeling happy versus those who did not take the time off.  Many reported being happy and having an overall feeling of well-being to last beyond the actual vacation.
  • Vacations make you come back more productive at work. You might think that being away from work affects productivity. Actually it is the opposite.  Studies show that companies that give workers more vacation time experience more company productivity and see less sick days taken off by their employees.  Having liberal vacation policies create quality of life for the employees which results to increased work quality.  Because workers feel more creative after taking time off, they feel happier and more satisfied with their jobs. 
  • Vacations make your relationships stronger. When you vacation with your family or love ones, you create closer bonds. Family vacations create more memories than any other family activity.  The shared experiences during the vacation promote family bonding which is priceless.  Studies show that women who take vacations with their spouses report feeling more satisfied with the marriage. There is also research that uncovered the connection between kids’ academic achievements and summer vacations.
  • Vacations results to better sleep. When we have too much on our minds, we can’t stop our minds from churning resulting to restless nights and disrupted sleep.  Lack of sleep leads to lack of focus, less alertness and impaired memory.  Lack of sleep can also increase the likelihood of accidents and decrease quality of life.  Taking a vacation break will disrupt the habits that disrupt our sleep and will reset our sleep pattern.

Whatever it was that convinced you to take your vacation time off, make it a habit to plan a well-deserved vacation every year.  Taking some “me time” is important for your well-being.  If you can’t afford to take a lavish trip, take a long weekend trip or have a staycation.  Take a break, come back and meet the new and improved YOU who feels better, happier, healthier, is more focused and productive!