The Curse of Vacation Deprivation

When’s the last time you truly took a break? Think about it. How long ago was it that you took a few days off from work and unplugged? We mean actually unplug – no checking emails on your phone or stressing about what’s happening at the office.

If you’re like more than half the country, it’s probably been awhile. According to Expedia’s annual study, 59% of American workers in 2018 described themselves as vacation deprived. The report also found that Americans left more than 650 million vacation days unused – along with those in Japan and Thailand, American workers took the fewest days off of any country in 2018. Moreover, 60% of workers say they do some amount of work while on vacation.

Considering the immensely negative mental and emotional effects brought on by avoiding vacations, and the amount of Americans leaving what little time off they have on the table, it’s fair to call vacation deprivation what it is: a curse.

The Toll of Overworking

Americans work a lot. In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average American works 44 hours a week. A Gallup poll from 2018 reported an alarming 32% of Americans work 45-59 hours a week and 12% clock 60 hours weekly. Add commute time to that (nearly 70% of Americans spend at least 30 minutes driving to and from work) and you’ve got a pretty clear picture of just how much we work in the U.S.

Compare that, then, to the vacation statistics. The average worker lets four days of earned time off go to waste each year. Even when they’re on vacation, 25% of people check in on work during their time away. And of the 10 vacation days the average American takes annually, two of them are used for running errands.

We can’t get away from work even when we’re away from work, and it’s taking a toll. Without a break, stress and anxiety build up to unmanageable levels, which in turn lead to physical ailments like headaches, backaches, and heart irregularities.

One study even found that men who skipped vacations for five years straight were 30% more likely to suffer a heart attack than men who took at least one week off per year. Similarly, women who vacation at least twice a year are eight times less likely to develop heart disease than women who take one vacation every six years.

Your sleep suffers when you’re overworked. When thoughts of work are coursing through your brain all night, your mind can’t properly rest. You’ll feel less alert, unable to focus, and you’ll increase your chances of making a mistake or having an accident. This also leads to a dip in productivity, which further amplifies stress and anxiety. It’s a cruel cycle.

Why We Don’t Vacation

Everyone loves a good escape from the daily grind, which is why it might be surprising to hear how many American workers avoid vacations. The reasons are myriad.

Many people hold onto their days off for bigger trips, putting even more time between vacations. In addition, many U.S. workers feel they can’t afford a vacation of any size, thus leading them to not use their time for things other than errands.

And as we mentioned earlier, even when we take time off, many of us are still checking in despite less than 40% of workers say their superiors or clients require them to stay plugged in during vacation. Even still, many workers expressed fear their work would suffer while they’re away, or they’d lose their job should they take time off. Indeed, some employees even believed working extra time would improve their standing in the eyes of the company.

Break the Curse by Taking a Break

Vacation deprivation is real, and its effects are damaging. But there’s good news: you can break the curse by simply taking a break.

Long vacations are wonderful, but you don’t need a week-long sojourn to feel the benefits. Even a one-to-three day vacation can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels. You’ll sleep deeper and longer after a short holiday, too. Time off from work even boosts your productivity when you do return; one study found that employees’ year-end performance improved by 8% for every 10 hours of vacation they took.

Shake off the shackles of work and use the time you’re given to reset mentally, emotionally, and physically. We don’t get that much of it – Americans average 14 days of time off per year, compared to countries like the U.K. where the government mandates all employees receive a minimum of 28 days earned time off (the U.S. has no such requirement).   

It doesn’t even matter where you go during your time away from the office. Book a beach home and enjoy the surf and sunshine for a few days. Take a week and go to those mountains you’ve always dreamed of visiting. Pamper yourself at a spa. Or just take a staycation and veg out at home for a few days.

What does matter is how you vacation. Turn the laptop off and avoid emails or phone calls about work. Don’t stress about the office – it will be there when you get back. Take time off around national holidays to get more days away without spending as much PTO. Travel during the off-season to save money.

Above all else, for your own sake, just take a vacation.

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