Written by Rebecca Clark
Although a more eventful year than most, 2017 is finally coming to a close. The holidays and the new year are right around the corner, most of us using the opportunity to take a break from our busy work schedules to relax with friends and family.
But the holidays aren’t the only time of year to spend time with friends and family. We also have Vacation and Paid Time Off.
So why did 55% of Americans not use all of their vacation days in 2016? According to a study conducted by Project Time Off, that adds up to over 650 million paid vacation days that went unused. Project Time Off found that fear motivates people to become work martyrs: Fear of returning to a large pile of work, fear of upsetting their boss or coworkers, and fear of not being able to afford a vacation were three of the top reasons why PTO went unused.
Growing up, my parents, younger brother, and I took a trip every summer, trying not to repeat destinations; however, now that my brother and I both have significant others who join us on vacations, our family trips have gotten a bit less “glamorous” and usually just consist of the six of us renting out a cabin at a state park over a long weekend.
Sure, these long weekends aren’t quite as exotic as spending 10 days on the beach, eating our way through New York City, or meeting up in Italy during my study abroad semester. But even the shortest, simplest getaways always left me feeling refreshed. No matter where you go (or don’t go—staycations are just as fun!), vacations are a way to break out of your routine, have a little fun, and come back to reality with a clear head. Whether you decide to jet off on an exotic international escapade, buckle up and take a road trip, or stay in your pajamas on the couch all day, there are so many professional advantages to using your vacation days:
- Improve your physical and mental health: It’s no secret that jobs are a major stress point for many people. Taking a break from work is a surefire way to reduce the anxiety that comes with feeling overwhelmed by your job. Stress is bad for both your physical and mental health, and using time (that your employer is paying you for anyway!) to unwind can get those serotonin levels back on track.
- Inspire creativity: It can be hard to get creative when you surround yourself with the same people and scenery every day. Changing up your environment, meeting new people, and trying new things may spark some ideas you wouldn’t have been able to come up with in an office.
- Reconnect with family/friends: Oftentimes, people find themselves accidentally prioritizing their work over their relationships with others. After all, you need your job—you need to be able to pay the bills and put food on the table. We don’t usually do this on purpose, but it’s easy to lose track of time and miss family dinner or run late to soccer practice. Vacations are a great way to bond with loved ones from whom you may be feeling distant due to work constraints.
- Increase your productivity: Upon returning to work, you’ll feel refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to take on whatever work throws at you. Breaking up your routine prevents burnout.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to use up that paid time off, here are three more reasons:
- Project Time Off also found “those who take more than 10 vacation days have a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus in a three-year period.”
- Project Time Off estimates these “unused vacation days translate into about $223 billion in lost spending,” money that could be used to create jobs and fuel small businesses.
- A study conducted by HomeAway and the University of Texas found that only 43% of people who work while on vacation actually remember their trip.
There are many reasons why you may not want to use your vacation days this summer, but chances are it falls under one of the three aforementioned categories. So, let’s revisit those fears:
Fear of returning to a pile of work. Plan ahead. Give your boss plenty of notice as to when you’ll be taking your vacation, and let your coworkers know when you’ll be unavailable. Make sure that everyone you regularly contact know what days you’ll be out of the office in advance. People are flexible and likto help each other out; they’ll be happy to either push a project up or extend its deadline if it interferes with your vacation dates.
Fear of upsetting their boss/coworkers. Your company gives you paid vacation days for a reason. They know it’s necessary to take a breather every now and then and spend some quality time with your family and friends, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed of taking advantage of an opportunity with which your employer presented you. And besides, do you really want to work with people who don’t respect your health and well-being?
Fear of not being able to afford a vacation. You don’t have to actually go somewhere to use your paid time off. Use your vacation days to take a couple four-day weekends and spend that extra time sleeping in, going to a movie, baking, or binge-watching the newest Netflix additions. The possibilities are limitless!
It’s hard to break away from work; there’s always an email to answer, a meeting to schedule, someone to input into the database. Work is important, and it’s important to show up every day with a positive attitude, ready to work hard to accomplish your goals—but you can’t accomplish your goals running on minimal sleep and maximum stress. For as important as it is to put all of your effort into your clients and consultants, it’s as equally important to take some “you” time to relax and recharge