Why You Should Start Using (All) Your Vacation Days
Written by Mandy Shold
Have you ever wondered how some companies can offer unlimited vacation time? What sounds like a huge employee benefit is actually the product of us not using the vacation time we already have. Employers can only offer the perk because data says we won’t take advantage of it. If every day equates to a dollar amount, that means every year we’re losing money—and it’s our own fault.
The truth is, I’m a part of the most vacation-ambivalent generation. Millennials work longer hours and take less vacation than any other generation. Not to mention, millennial women are even less likely to take time off than their male counterparts, due to our more “pronounced guilt” and feelings that we “don’t want to burden people with our time away.” Plus, when we finally do get away, we’re more likely to stay constantly connected—checking our work emails, texting coworkers and joining calls remotely.
Oh, and we’re also considered the most stressed generation. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Maybe it’s about time we gave ourselves a break. (Literally.) Aside from the obvious appeal of laying by the beach with a good book in one hand and fruity drink in the other, vacations are good for your productivity and personal health. Employees who use all of their vacation time are more productive, performing at a higher level than those who don’t.
I’ve been known to hoard a vacation day or two. (Actually, I just finished using up my 2016 vacation days—in mid-2018.) I’ve been guilty of working long hours and not claiming comp time, and have been a long-time sufferer of “vacation guilt.” But I’ve started making these three significant changes in the way I take and enjoy vacations—and my gut says you should follow suit.
Planning a vacation well in advance makes it easier for you to get away. Not only does it give your colleagues time to work around your schedule, it gives you time to find alternatives on projects and manage expectations. I’m also a big fan of detailed “going away” emails, updating your team on the status of anything up in the air before you set up your out-of-office reply. (Make sure you leave an alternative contact in your out-of-office reply. I usually like to treat (cough, bribe) them with coffee when I return.)
Sure, three-day weekends are great—but four-day weekends are better. Take advantage of time you already have off and cluster a vacation day (or two) around the holiday. Get Memorial Day off? Try taking off the Friday before or Tuesday after. Not only does it make it feel more like a holiday and less like a typical weekend, but you can travel further, avoid traffic or even factor in a “buffer day” for things like laundry, meal prep or—perhaps more realistically—hangovers.
This may sound obvious, but unplugging and respecting your own vacation will make others respect it too! If you’re constantly answering emails, well, guess what, people are going to email you. Set the expectation that you’re unavailable and people will find a way to muddle through without you. If you absolutely have to make yourself available, make sure people only contact you in emergencies; have them call you rather than relying on email. Instead of checking your phone, check out new cities; instead of living on your computer, try living in the moment.
Did reading this make you want to book a vacation? Good! I’ve already got a few in the works, but writing this made me want to plan a few more. Vacations are good for your soul and your work performance and help strengthen your relationships, both in and out of the office. Whether it’s a bed-and-breakfast a few towns away, an off-the-grid glamping trip, or a tropical bungalow far away, make sure you make time for yourself. What good is a vacation day if you never take advantage of it?
Just remember: work hard, travel harder.
Mandy spends her days working in public relations, specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility - a job which not only fuels her soul but also pays her San Francisco rent. She spends her (virtually nonexistent) free time exploring the Bay Area craft beer scene, working on her rock collection and wishing her cat would be the big spoon sometimes. For additional sass and details of her life held together by caffeine and dry shampoo, follow her on Twitter at @WayToRepresent.