There’s a story I heard ages ago, so long ago that I can’t find where it came from. Still, it has stuck with me for years.
A 40 year old man had been with the same firm for three years. He worked long hours on difficult projects. After a year on the job, he became the go-to person if you had a question or needed assistance. Then, after a year of being the “go-to” person, he began to feel a bit…overwhelmed.
The stress and anxiety turned to full-fledged burnout. He was exhausted and irritable. Incessant brain fog hurt his effectiveness, making the long hours even longer. He felt physically ill. One day, after a particularly stressful meeting, he’d had enough. The man walked straight into his manager’s office and said, “I quit. I can’t do this anymore.”
The manager sat quietly in her chair for a moment before responding. “This company offers two paid weeks of vacation a year, with the ability to accrue up to four weeks,” she said. “You have been at the maximum accrual for ages. Why haven’t you taken any time off?”
This isn’t a perfect story with a happy ending. The employee didn’t magically take a week of vacation and come back refreshed and ready to take on all the same tasks. Still, there are countless reasons why this person wouldn’t have taken his time off. Perhaps he didn’t believe his coworkers could handle his workload in his absence. He could have been concerned about not appearing devoted enough. Maybe he doesn’t have the extra money for a trip somewhere, and doesn’t see value in stay-cations.
High-performing employees have plenty of reasons why they should not take their paid time off. Here are some reasons you absolutely should:
Vacations can reduce stress and anxiety
By removing yourself from the environment that tends to cause stress and anxiety, a vacation can improve your mood and reduce perceived levels of everyone’s favorite stress hormone: cortisol. When you are under constant stress and your body’s fight-flight-or-freeze response is constantly activated, your adrenal glands release cortisol thinking it will keep you safe. Releasing cortisol can also stop other, normal bodily functions, such as digestion and immunity. Over time, it can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, mental illness, Irritable Bowl Syndrome, and other ailments.
To reiterate, taking a vacation does not make your stress go away. However, it can give your body some time to counteract and repair the damaging effects of excessive stress.
Vacation boosts mindfulness and focus
Breaking your daily routine and turning off auto-pilot forces you to tune in to your surroundings–whether that be out in nature, in a foreign country, or in the comfort of your hometown without the weight of your job weighing heavy in the air.
The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.Tim Kreider, The Busy Trap
Downtime gives your mind the chance to replenish motivation, attention, and productivity. Think of your brain as a computer hard drive. Some of you may remember, back in the day, when we would “defrag” our hard drives–essentially running a program that reorganizes fragments of files so they are stored together, making your system run faster and more efficiently. Your brain does its own version of this during downtime.
It benefits your corporate culture
You will be hard-pressed to find a company that takes pride of their terrible work-life balance. Even companies that are known for working their employees into the ground do so with euphemisms (work hard, play hard, anyone?)
If you do take vacation, but still keep up on your emails and join the occasional conference call, your colleagues are less likely to unplug during their time away. When a manager doesn’t take his or her paid time off, the team under them may not feel empowered to take their vacations.
Be the change you wish to see in your workplace cultureGandhi, probably
And lastly, it’s part of your compensation
If you have paid time off as a benefit from your work, and you don’t take it, you are not receiving all of your pay. This is especially true for those who can only accrue up to a certain amount of vacation time. If you reach the maximum amount of accrued PTO, you are being paid less than you would be if you were receiving your salary and accrued time off.
Don’t donate your time to your employer. Use your vacation hours. Unplug. Relax. Recharge.