The downside to being able to work from anywhere is that many employees do just that, even when they’re supposed to be taking a break. Many even work through their vacation each year — when they take vacation at all.
Workers in the United States don’t take vacations the way they should. Many don’t have much of a choice. Millions of Americans don’t receive any paid vacation time. This sets the U.S. apart from other developed nations.
“The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation days and holidays,” says John Schmitt, a senior economist, in a report for the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “Relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked. It’s a national embarrassment that 28 million Americans don’t get any paid vacation or paid holidays.”
Even workers who do receive paid time off often feel pressure not to actually use it. But, that’s only one of the many factors that contribute to workers missing out on 705 million vacation days every year in this country.
You might think that American workers would hold their rare vacation days as sacred, given how seldom they get the chance to actually enjoy them. But, this isn’t the case either. Lots of people plug into work once in a while during their precious vacations. Are you one of them?
Lots of people work while they’re on vacation
According to a survey from LinkedIn, 70 percent of professionals say they don’t break away completely when they take a vacation. Most workers admit that they at least check their work email when they’re supposed to be out of the office.
Other research has come up with similar findings. A study from the job placement agency Accountemps, which was covered by CBS News, found that 56 percent of employees report touching base with work when they’re supposed to be on vacation. They also note that millennials are most likely to stay plugged in when they’re away from the office. And, baby boomers are most likely to turn off their phones.
Research has also found that there are tremendous benefits associated with taking a vacation. Employees who feel supported in taking time aware have higher job satisfaction, better relationships and even better health, according to a 2018 report from Project: Time Off.
Tips for maximizing the benefits of your vacation
The research is clear that it pays to unplug from work. But, that’s often easier said than done. Here are a few things you can do to help make it happen:
1. Plan ahead
According to a 2010 study, planning or anticipating a vacation can be a really enjoyable part of the experience. Anticipating the trip could make you happier than actually taking it. So, don’t plan your trip at the last minute. You want to give yourself time to thoroughly enjoy the planning stage of the process, too.
Plus, planning ahead helps your vacation to be less stressful. You’re taking time away because you want to relax. So, don’t leave everything to the last minute. You’ll be working against yourself if you’re stressed about packing, catching a flight or figuring out where to stay. Instead, plan your trip well in advance and enjoy anticipating it as the date gets closer.
2. Don’t keep it a secret
It will be a lot easier not to work during vacation if you prepare in advance. So, be sure to tell the people at work whom it will affect that you’ll be away. Give them enough notice that it’s reasonable to expect them to be able to prepare for your absence in advance. If your colleagues have known for two months that you’re going to be away, they shouldn’t need to email or call you with questions. They should be able to make the appropriate preparations in advance.
Also, make it clear right from the beginning that you’ll be unreachable during your time off. Don’t apologize for this or act as though there’s something wrong with it. Own the fact that you’ll be away and out of contact during your days off. Just be sure to give everyone plenty of time to prepare.
3. Appreciate that you’re setting an example
Taking a vacation is about more than just you. It might help you to stay focused on your goal of not checking in with work if you remember to think about the example that you’re setting.
You’re doing the right thing by taking a vacation in the first place. Taking time off makes it easier for others to do the same, which in turn creates a company culture that supports work-life balance. Imagine how much easier it would be to take real vacations if everyone did the same? You’re doing your part to move things in the right direction when you take time off.
How you spend your vacation matters, too. If you check in with the office while you’re away, you’ll encourage others to do the same. But, if you use your time off to rest and relax, you’ll show your teammates that they can unplug from work as well. This is especially true if you’re a manager or someone who’s been at the company a long time.
Finally, if you want to be left alone while you’re away, be sure to extend others that same courtesy. Sixty-seven percent of workers say they would contact a coworkers about a work-related matter while that colleague is on vacation. Be part of the 33 percent who leave people alone to rest and relax.
4. Leave some wiggle room
Vacations aren’t supposed to be stressful. But, that doesn’t mean that time off is always as relaxing as you hope it will be. If a vacation feels too rushed or chaotic, it can take away from some of the more positive benefits that you’re aiming for.
So, consider giving yourself a little time between your vacation and heading back to work if you’re doing any traveling. (You may even want to take a day to pack and prepare before you go away, if you can swing it.) It doesn’t feel great to head in to work on only a few hours of sleep because you took a late flight in the night before. Of course it’s tempting to be away for as long as possible. But, you want to hit the ground running and really be at your best when you return to work. So, don’t cut it too close.
Are you someone who likes to have experiences on vacation? That’s all well and good, but don’t forget to pencil in some time to rest, as well. Going on adventures may help maximize your time away, but don’t skimp on sleep.
You know that sleep affects your physical health. But, remember that it contributes to your mental health, too. Not getting enough rest can make you feel foggy, anxious or even depressed, even if you’re on vacation. So, have fun while you’re away. But, commit to getting some Zzz’s. Keep a regular schedule and get as much rest as you can.
6. Don’t work
This might seem obvious, but if you don’t want to work during vacation … don’t work during vacation.
That means not checking in with work email, not calling in to a meeting, not making yourself available for a last-minute question or phone call. You might even want to go wild and leave your laptop or work phone behind when you take off.
If that sounds scary, it might help to weigh the benefits of getting real some time away before your break. Workers are more productive, creative and happier when they allow themselves to unplug once in a while.
You might think that you’re giving your career a little boost by “going the extra mile” and working, even though you’re on vacation. But, that might not actually be the case. You’ll probably do a better job if you take some real time off.
7. Don’t feel guilty about it
You’ll be better able to maximize the full benefits of your vacation if you can remember to relax into it and really enjoy it. It’s perfectly all right to take time away once in a while. And, it’s better for everyone in the end if you actually unplug and don’t work while you’re away.
Current cultural norms might not always support these efforts, though. And, as a result, you might feel some internal push-back once in a while on your vacation. You might even find yourself feeling badly about being away. When those feelings strike, remind yourself of everything you know about the importance of taking a real break. Remember that when you do a good job getting some distance from work while you’re away, it encourages others to follow suit. There’s absolutely nothing to feel guilty about.
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