Vacations can take many forms. Some are focused on pursuing thrill in far off places, whereas others are all about rest, whether at home or in an exotic locale. But all vacation takers are seeking the same outcome: better health and well-being when they return. This can translate into personal and professional benefits such as a better attitude, increased focus, and improved outlook on life. So why does the average American leave approximately four employer-paid vacation days on the table each year?

Erin Dickman, MS, RN, OCN®
Erin Dickman, MS, RN, OCN®

What the Research Says

Studies show that Americans, year after year, trail other countries in taking advantage of their paid vacation benefit while they continue to work longer and longer days. The trend is creating a vacation deprivation that may affect individual and workplace health. Research suggests that disconnected time away from work decreases burnout, boosts happiness, generates better sleep patterns, and increases mental power.

Also consider that leaving vacation hours on the table is like working for free. The increase in vacation usage from 16.8 to 17.2 days from 2016 to 2017 created more than 200,000 jobs and generated $8.9 billion in additional income for Americans. And 65.4% of people who took more than 10 vacation days were more likely to get a raise, compared to 34.6% who took less than 10 days. Barriers to taking vacation cited in the 2018 U.S. Travel Association’s State of American Vacation Report are fear of looking replaceable, inability to manage a large workload, and lacking coverage.

How to Practice

It sounds counterintuitive but allowing time away from work is one of the best ways to be more productive and focused in your role. Here are some tactics to help make your vacation a reality:

Promote a work culture that supports getting away: Help cover your coworkers’ duties while they are out on vacation, knowing that they will come back after vacation happier and healthier. They might also do the same for you when you are planning your vacation.

Go somewhere new: Reports show that using your days off traveling increases happiness, physical health, and well-being compared to staycations at home.

Start planning early: Put in your requests early to ensure you get the time off, and make a comprehensive coverage plan for while you are out that you feel comfortable with. Planning ahead will make it easier to stay away from email and work calls while you are off. Also, just the process of planning can be exciting as a vacation and has its own mood-boosting advantages.

Take day trips to a new part of town: If you don’t have time for a multiweek trip, even a few hours away can make a difference. A short getaway can yield some of the same health benefits and stave off vacation deprivation. When planning your short escape, try to keep travel time under four hours.

As spring and summer approach, remember to mark some time off for a vacation. Be kind to yourself, and happy vacationing!