Summer is officially here, yet there’s a good chance you’re not going to take advantage of it. For many of us, the term “summer vacation” is meant for those still in primary school, and for the rest of us, summer vacation just doesn’t exist. Those who don't take any time off may think it's a pie-in-the-sky, old-fashioned notion that we can load up the family station wagon and take off for two weeks to drive across the country. (That was how my family did summer vacations, at least.)
A Nation of Workaholics
The reality is that the vast majority of us won’t use all of our paid vacation time this year. Vacation time is a hotly contested topic for American workers. For starters, the United States is one of the lowest-ranked countries in terms of paid vacation time. One in four American workers aren’t offered paid vacation or paid holidays.
It would stand to reason that if vacation time is so scarce for U.S. workers, than those of us who can break away would use every last minute. Interestingly enough, this isn’t the case. The U.S. Travel Association financed a study that found that while 96 percent of the people they surveyed understood the importance of taking a vacation, 41 percent don’t plan on using all of their paid vacation days. The study cites returning to a "mountain of work” and feeling like no one else could do their job as the biggest reasons for people not taking advantage of their paid vacation days.
Working Without Working
According to the OECD, Americans rank just under Korea in terms of average hours worked per year in the world among advanced economic countries. If you take our average work hours and divide them by our gross domestic product, the United States is just slightly worse than average in terms of productivity.
Let that sink in for a bit: We work harder than nearly every country, and our output is below average. This may give us reason to believe that as a country, the more time we spend at our desks doesn’t equate to more productivity. In fact, our average productivity is less than that of the much-maligned French work culture, which offers on average 30 government guaranteed vacation days a year. The United States offers zero. In fact, it’s the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation.
So why don't more people use their vacation? Some may believe they can’t take vacation time—let alone disconnect or have normal weekends from their jobs—because it may keep them from advancing in their career.
Interestingly, a 2015 study of a large consulting firm found that management couldn’t easily tell the difference between those who worked 60-80 hour weeks, and those who worked 50 hours or less.
Vacations can raise productivity, clear our heads and give us the much-needed break that we need. We Americans can’t seem to figure out that breaks are good for us; maybe it’s the antiquated (yet romanticized) notion that we’re a country of “bootstrappers,” willing to work harder than anyone else to succeed. Unfortunately, the numbers tell us that this just doesn’t translate universally across the United States.
Health Benefits of Vacation
Thinking about this from an owner’s perspective, having your workers take vacation may be beneficial to your team. They may come back more focused, refreshed and with a better outlook. Taking a vacation can be great for both you and your workforce. If you’re giving paid vacation to your employees, you may be able to make it up on the backend with increased productivity and less needed health care. A 2014 Gallup poll found that those surveyed who made a point to take regular trips or vacations had higher well-being scores than those who did not—and this was true at varying income levels.
This doesn’t just apply to yearly vacations. We may want to consider taking daily breaks from the rigors of working. Finding healthy ways to unwind, relax and disconnect from our jobs may be important to our overall mental health and productivity.
For more tips to help you achieve a better work-life balance, watch the exclusive video series, made in partnership with MSNBC: Work-Life Balance: Tips from the Trenches.
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