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Everyone Needs a Vacation: Maybe Now More Than Ever

Time away from the demands of work (and the media) can do a lot of good.

The other day, a friend mentioned that he was unexpectedly shocked to realize that he had developed what he termed a "tolerance" for tragedies. The news media spent so much air time hammering home the details of tragedies and disasters as they unfolded, which is harrowing information. But because there was absolutely nothing that he could do to un-do an event or make a tangible difference, he learned the art of "superficial caring" in place of the "visceral caring" that had always been his previous response. Professional helpers call it "compassion fatigue," but it's that same feeling that you get when you just don't have the capacity to respond the way you once could.

This is not an anomaly anymore. Each of us has only so much energy to invest into any given activity, whether it's physical, emotional, or mental energy, so we have to make decisions on where to direct our actions. However, it is also true that if we don't make time to recharge our resources, we will have even less left to give to the significant others in our lives or to ourselves. Therefore, it is advised that we all find some way to take a vacation from the daily grind of work, bad news, and despair.

Do Americans Even "Believe" in Vacations?

It would not seem that the country is as invested in their employees' mental health and time off as most other countries seem to be. The ranking of the United States in the “Mandated Vacation Days” comparison is absolutely dismal — the U.S. has exactly zero mandated days off. This compares to the 25+ that are mandated in Australia, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and 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. Before you get too upset about this injustice, it might be even more upsetting to realize that Americans are leaving a lot of vacation days on the table each year. Not only do we not receive "mandated holidays," employees who accrue time off are not even using all of it up — estimates put the number of days that Americans give the company, what amounts to "free labor," at around 705 million days! Following are some reasons to take the days you deserve — and even if you have to get creative to get some time off the clock, turn an evening off or a regular day off into a vacation frame of mind — it is well worth the time!

Benefits for the Body

Cardiovascular Health

According to the large-scale, longitudinal Framingham Heart Study, people that forego vacation time away from the workplace are facing significantly increased risks for heart trouble and early death. If a woman allows six or more years to pass between vacations, she is eight 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 Time

Sleep patterns improve during vacation times, because you’re more able to let your natural circadian rhythms rule your bedtime and wake time. This was just one finding from a study commissioned by New Zealand Airlines and conducted by Mark Rosekind. We sleep better on vacation, and this effect lasts for weeks after we return.

Reaction Times

Reaction times improve when you take time for a vacation, according to Rosekind’s study. 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.

Work 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, according to findings from an Ernst & Young corporate study.

Loyalty and Job Satisfaction

The Society for Human Resource Management, an organization dedicated to professionals’ best practices in HR, found that people who use their vacation days regularly are also more loyal to their employers. Vacation-taking workers are also less likely to leave their jobs. This is good news for businesses, as most successful managers recognize that happy employees make for more profitable organizations.

Benefits for the Soul

When you take time away from the job, you are also taking time out for yourself that allows your mind to find some freedom. When you let go of over-worry about work issues, your brain gets to go off-the-clock and attend to matters of personal significance . . . or not. Letting your mind wander is one of the healthiest things you can allow it to do — there’s a whole list of amazing discoveries and innovations that popped up when the creators were “on vacation.” Almost everyone has had the experience of having a brilliant inspiration during a mundane task — and it turns out that when you’re not trying to think of something, your brain has more freedom to creatively explore solutions to problems or imagine new ways of doing something.

And the process of creative expression is simply more important to our emotional well-being than the product itself that we create.

When we are freeing our minds from the daily yoke of work, we will also experience freedom from the worry-induced aches and pains that are generated on the job. 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, and this is definitely good for the soul.

Reset Your Body’s Operating System

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

Even If They Have Vacation Leave, Why Do People Choose Not to Take Vacations?

  • Anxiety about 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

Management should mandate that their employees use their paid leave. It boosts productivity, re-energizes employees, reduces burnout, 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.

The Big Question: How Long Is “Long Enough”?

Even a four-night vacation is enough to lower stress and increase well-being that endures weeks after your return to the job (Blank et al., 2018). If all you can manage is a long weekend, it’s worth the effort to unplug and disconnect from daily life. Worry ages a person, and vacations — whether around the globe or around the backyard fire pit — enable you to turn off the worry and allow your mind to shift into neutral.


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)

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