If you haven’t taken a vacation in a while, you’re not alone.
According to the 2018 State of American Vacation, American workers accrued a whopping 705 million unused vacation days in 2017, with over half (52%) reporting unused vacation days at the end of the year.
Science proves that taking vacations is not only good for your health, but boosts productivity. Despite all this, Americans take less time off than almost every other developed nation in the world (including China!).
Why are Americans taking less vacation time than ever?
There’s been a steady decline in vacations since the 1970s. Americans now take an entire week less now than they did in 1978.
Research suggests the reason for shrinking vacations fall into a few common categories: added stress (too many projects/deadlines and the pile of work people will come back to); management disapproval; difficulty unplugging; and fear of career derailment (ironic considering those that take at least 11 vacation days per year are more likely to receive a raise or bonus!).
So why take a vacation?
Besides increased likelihood of promotions and extra money?
Well, for starters taking vacations are really good for your health. They can prevent heart disease and help you live longer. They also can boost your mental health, reduce stress, and increase energy levels upon your return. Even just planning a vacation can make you happier.
They’re also great for productivity. When we’re mentally and physically fatigued, we burn out and then we check out. The Europeans know this, which is why governments in Europe—home to some of the most productive countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development—mandate a minimum of 20 paid days off per year.
If you work in a creative field, time off can “refresh your brain cells,” giving your mind a much-needed boost that can result in innovations you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
When you take a vacation, make sure you actually take one.
Here’s the catch, though. When you take a vacation, really take one.
First of all, you have to unplug. According to one study, over 60% of Americans work while they’re on vacation. You don’t need scientific research to know this isn’t the way to relax. (Ok, we can’t help it. Here’s just one stat to prove why it’s bad for you.)
A great way to ensure you go off the grid is to set up some call-blocking parameters. If you have a small business and can’t let calls go unanswered, you could also have them forwarded to a colleague.
It’s also important to remember that not all vacations are equal. It doesn’t matter if it’s three days, a week, or three weeks: a stressful vacation will not refresh you. Do as much vacation prep as possible. This includes ironing out the details of what you’ll be doing, when you’ll be doing it, and how you’ll get there.
Finally, while it actually takes a full week for our bodies to produce less stress-related enzymes and hormones, be sure to take at least three full days off. Anything less than that and you won’t relax at all.