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You Really Do "Need" a Vacation

Employees and employers both benefit when employees use their vacation days.

A corporation, TSheets, recently conducted a study of how many days of paid time off employees are earning and just how many days these employees are not taking. There’s a pretty big discrepancy between these numbers – they’ve estimated that over 573 million vacation days go unused.

When we work for a company that actually provides paid time off, it really doesn’t make good personal sense to forego taking advantage of that particular benefit. Below are some key ways in which skipping vacations can wreak havoc on your health and well-being:

Cardiovascular Health: If a woman allows six or more years to pass between vacations, she is 8 times more likely to develop heart disease. Men who forego their annual vacation times have a 32 percent greater risk of dying of a heart attack.

Sleep: Sleep patterns improve during vacation times because you’re more able to let your natural circadian rhythms rule your bedtime and wake time.

Reaction Times: Reaction times improve when you take time for a vacation. Stress overworks the brain and when you’re constantly overloading and dividing your limited attention span between computer screens, cellphones, conversations, and worries about what you should be doing that you don’t have the time to do, you lose the ability to pay attention to what is going on around you.

Productivity: You’ll be more productive if you get out of the office for some R&R, too. For every 10 hours of vacation time taken, productivity improves 8 percent.

Loyalty & Job Satisfaction: People who use their vacation days regularly are also more loyal to their employers and less likely to leave their jobs. And happy employees make for more profitable organizations.

Stress: You experience fewer aches and pains once you return to work after time away. Your body turns mental and emotional stress into physiological experiences like headaches, backaches, and muscle tension. By letting go of the stressors for a week, your body is able to unclench and return to its healthier, more relaxed state.

So, How Long is “Long Enough”?

The consensus opinion is that even a 4-night vacation is enough to lower stress and increase well-being that endures weeks after your return to the job. Once upon a time, folks counted down the days to Fridays at 5 when they could spend the next two days enjoying the things in life that were not work-related in the least. How many 2-day weekends free from work-related tasks, thoughts, or worries are you taking these days? If you are on-call or have a Smartphone or tablet or other noose of communication, you probably don’t have “time” to stop the work-related time clock even when you’re off the clock officially. If you can give yourself a full 4-day holiday from work, you’re going to do a fairly good job getting work out of your system.

Re-Set your Body’s Operating System

Vacations allow your body to “re-set” and to be more present in the moment. Less burn-out, higher energy, greater creativity, opportunities for employees to grow their skill sets when shouldering some of the workload when helping out with duties beyond their normal routines.

Worry ages a person and vacations – whether around the globe or around the backyard fire pit – allow you to turn off the worry and allow your mind to shift into neutral. Think about it, we’re advised to let the batteries run low on our electronic devices so that we can then give them a full charge to keep them working more effectively than keeping them “fully charged, 24/7.” For your computers, you’re advised to do a full shut down or re-start every day. Our bodies and brains need that full charge and shut down just like electronic devices do – we take better care of the health of our devices’ operating systems and hardware than we do of our own!

The US’s standings in the “Mandated Vacation Days” comparison is absolutely dismal – the US has exactly ZERO mandated days off. This compares to the 25+ that are mandated in Australia, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, or Kuwait. In fact, the United States is the only country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that does not mandate paid vacation.

Why do People choose NOT to take Vacations?

A good number of the people who choose not to take vacation are making a decision based on fear:

  • Afraid of the workload that will pile up while they are away
  • Fear that they will “miss out” on something important
  • Concern that their absence will be perceived as a shortcoming
  • Fear that their boss might decide that they aren’t as essential to the operation as they had thought

It would be helpful if the culture we live in supported the care of our bodies over the feeding of the economic machine. Management should mandate that their employees use their paid leave. It boosts productivity, re-energizes employees, reduces burn-out, and improves morale. In these days of economic uncertainty, it’s not wise to leave paid time on the table at the end of the year.


Blank C, Gatterer K, Leichtfried V, Pollhammer D, Mair-Raggautz M, Duschek S, Humpeler E, & Schobersberger W. (2018). Short Vacation Improves Stress-Level and Well-Being in German-Speaking Middle-Managers-A Randomized Controlled Trial. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 15(1).

Ernst & Young study of its own employees

Framingham Heart Study – large-scale, longitudinal study

New Zealand Air study by Mark Rosekind

Society for Human Resource Management

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