This summer, I took a real vacation where I immersed myself in family, food, and fun. For me, taking a break from work and social media was enormously beneficial for my physical and mental well-being.
It is, no doubt, often difficult to get away. It involves complicated logistics (Who will take care of the dog while we’re gone? How will we get to the airport? Where should we stay?). It can be expensive (food, lodging, transportation, activities). It requires skilled negotiation (Who wants to go where and do what? What constitutes good planning versus over scheduling?). And it feels like I need to do double the work preparing to go on vacation and again to make up for all that I missed. So, is it even worth it?
Yes. Yes, it is.
Taking a break is restorative. It helps us regain balance. And it reminds us what life is all about.
On my recent vacation – our first family trip via plane since before the pandemic – my immediate family of five went to Puerto Rico. We enjoyed the beautiful island beaches, experienced the vibrant culture, and had memorable family adventures. Highlights included a food tour in Old San Juan, hiking through the rainforest, snorkeling in the turquoise waters around the island of Icacos, and kayaking through a bioluminescent bay. I savored fabulous meals, relished reading books, and treasured spending time with my husband and three children. I returned with wonderful memories, sore muscles, and just a bit of sunburn.
This time, I really disconnected from work – no covert checking of emails, no instant messages from the bathroom, no quick conference calls to sort out urgent issues, no LinkedIn. It was a full detox, with confidence in my team to carry on without me and with the knowledge that I would get a call or text if anything required my immediate attention.
In prior “vacations,” I’ve not been so disciplined. Sometimes I felt the urgency of a critical business challenge that required my personal engagement, and so I kept tabs on progress and even joined meetings to stay engaged. Other times I wanted to avoid having to dig myself out from a daunting inbox upon return, and so I spent a bit of time each day scanning messages and replying or delegating responses. As a result, though, it was never really a break. I kept thinking about the work, even when I was with my family. I felt guilty for stepping away from family time. And I didn’t get rejuvenated in the way I hoped because I tried to keep up with my work while maintaining a façade of relaxation.
Most wealthy countries around the world require employers to offer paid vacation time. For instance, workers in the European Union are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with some countries mandating 30 or more. The U.S., however, has no required vacation policy. As a result, a quarter of U.S. workers receive no paid vacation or holidays. This disproportionately impacts lower-wage and part-time workers and those who work for small businesses.
Even when employees get annual paid leave, many don’t take it. In 2019, 55% of American workers reported not using all their days off, leaving a record 768 million vacation days unused. And even when employees do take vacation, many feel guilty about taking time away, are concerned about being perceived as slacking off, or are fearful of missing out on opportunities. Many also related that they don’t actually disconnect from work responsibilities, keeping up with what’s going on at the office while they’re away.
COVID-19 has driven new vacation dynamics. Many halted travel, choosing instead staycations in which they participate in leisure activities within a day trip distance from home. More than half of Americans said they plan to take at least one micro-cation this summer – leisure trips away from home for four or fewer nights. This year, nearly a third of the global working population indicates they will take a workcation – a compromise in which they work remotely but from a holiday location rather than from home.
Today, as vaccines have become more widely available and COVID-19 restrictions have eased, travel is coming back. After being cooped up for over two years, many are eager for immersive experiences and family vacations. U.S. travel spending is surpassing pre-pandemic levels, though overseas travel remains below that of 2019. Travel trends include a focus on safety and cleanliness, community giveback, and protecting the environment.
It’s healthy to unplug. Studies show that recharging reduces fatigue and burnout, helps with long-term health, and improves employee retention. When people come back from vacation, they tend to perform better at problem solving, decision making, and creative tasks. They return with greater happiness and higher levels of clarity, which rub off on others and result in better overall morale.
Without necessary breaks, levels of burnout will continue to rise, and we’ll be left with an unsustainable work environment and an ineffectual workforce. We should encourage employees to use their vacation time to rest their bodies and minds so that they are able to be their very best at work and in their personal lives.
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