When you were a kid, vacations might have been pretty great. No school! Time to watch cartoons! But as an adult, taking your vacation time can be a lot more complicated.
Many of my clients approach vacations with a feeling of dread. They enjoy spending time away, but, oh, the cost of taking time off!
The result is that majority of Americans — 55% — did not use all of their allowed vacation time last year.
There must be some pretty powerful motivators for American workers to donate an average of two days of earned vacation a year back to their employers.
If you’ve been resisting taking a vacation this summer, I want you to keep reading.
I’m going to show you why you’re not taking your vacation time…and why you really might want to start taking it all.
3 reasons you’re not taking your vacation days
Taking vacations isn’t about getting away with something or thinking about your employer as “the enemy.”
Without your employer, you might not have such luxuries as food and shelter. And your employer gives you vacation for reasons that you’ll see below.
First, though, let’s analyze why you’re likely not taking advantage of the benefits you’ve earned.
1. You get punished – before, during, and after
The week before you leave on vacation is horrible – you’re trying to do twice the work in half the time. You’ve doubled up on meetings. Meanwhile, the “before you leave, can you…” emails and interruptions have skyrocketed.
While you’re gone, you may still be answering emails and taking calls. A recent poll of over 5,000 American workers shows that 30% of people work while on vacation.
So you’ve gone through the pain of departure — but you haven’t stopped working.
When you return to the office, your email inbox overfloweth and your colleagues interrupteth, even when you didn’t truly unplug from work!
It’s enough to make anyone want to throw their hands up in exasperation.
2. You pay twice for the vacation — literally
I worked with a physician client several years ago who described to me how he budgeted for vacations.
He said, “I take the actual costs of the travel and double it.”
This physician worked for himself — he was in private practice. This meant that when he wasn’t seeing patients, he wasn’t making money.
So he had to plan for the actual cost of the vacation…and then add in the lost income from not seeing his patients while he was gone.
This is your quandary if you’re a part of the eat-what-you-kill work world.
What you actually pay for airfare, hotels, and sunscreen is just a part of the actual cost of being away.
3. You are a work martyr
Reasons for work martyrdom are as varied as the people afflicted by the condition. As a work martyr, overwork is a part of your identity, preventing you from fully engaging in other aspects of your life.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of symptoms:
- “Nobody can do what I do.”
- “I don’t know who I am if I’m not working.”
- “If I leave, they might think I am replaceable.”
- “My family will understand.”
- “I am too….BUSY!”
If you are a work martyr, self-awareness is key. Recognize this tendency and be alert for the symptoms. Then see if you can change how you respond.
If your company is supportive of taking time off, then you’ll want to work on changing your attitude toward this earned benefit.
However, if your organization actively encourages you to put in tons of overtime and leave vacation days on the table, it may not be a problem you can solve by yourself.
At that point, you’ll want to consider looking for a new employer.
3 reasons to book your next vacation now
Okay, think about it. There is a return on investment (ROI) from taking vacations. If there weren’t, then nobody would do it. Companies certainly wouldn’t pay for it.
So, why should you take those days and enjoy a well-deserved break?
1. Every sentence needs punctuation
Time flies – whether you’re having fun or just plain busy. The only way to “stop” time is to punctuate it with key experiences and events that make you pause and remember.
Without vacations, our years may end up being a blur of busyness. It is important to separate your vacations from your work and enjoy those memories that you build.
Vacations are life’s punctuation marks. Don’t let the next year be a giant run-on work sentence.
2. There are physical and mental benefits to taking time off
Truly, they’re so good for you that it’s nuts. On some level, you already know this.
It may feel like you’re getting ahead by staying chained to your desk, but it’s an illusion.
Do you want to be lower-stress, healthier, more creative, more connected, and more productive? Who doesn’t?
3. You absolutely, unequivocally, will die someday
As unpleasant as it may be to consider, everybody dies.
So what life do you want flashing before your very eyes at the moment you transition? How long can you really put off spending time with your loved ones?
Sorry to go all “Cat’s in the Cradle” on you, but our time on this planet is finite.
I find that even my most brilliant, successful clients need to reminded of that every now and then. It’s easy to lose perspective.
This is a chance to find it again.
Summer’s winding down — is it too late?
Of course it’s not too late! Vacationing isn’t just for summertime – it’s a year-round necessity.
Take what you learned this summer and start making the needed changes to your vacation habits.
First, plan your time away for the next year and get it on the calendar. Aim to use most of your allowed PTO (paid time off). If you have unlimited vacation, get at least two weeks on the calendar for next year. This is an important step.
Then, be smart about how you prepare for your time away from work. On my blog, I share a helpful checklist for what to do two weeks before you go, a week before, the day before, and so on.
Last, once you go on vacation, permit yourself to unplug from work.
Temporarily disconnect your work email from your phone – this is typically a quick swipe in your settings. If you’re a leader in your company, it’s up to you to set a good example for others to follow.
Much of the summer is behind you, but it’s up to you to figure out how the next sentence of your life will be punctuated.
Choose a vacation — and make it an exclamation point!