It sounds crazy, but a large portion of the American workforce needs to be told, if not forced, to go on vacation. It’s true. Last year, about 40 percent of Americans admitted they weren’t planning on using all of their earned vacation time, saying they were “too afraid and stressed to take days off from work,” according to The Huffington Post.
Workers dread coming back to a mountain of work piled up on their desks, and they also have an irrational fear of appearing lazy in the eyes of their peers and managers. One could argue that American work culture is as much anti-vacation as it is pro-capitalism. Somehow, we need to blend the two together for the sake of our collective sanity, health, and productivity.
The good news is science is on the side of the siesta. Research is lending legitimacy to what we all know in our hearts to be true: we need regular breaks from work to unwind and recharge. Here are five reasons why taking a vacation is actually more of a necessity than a luxury.
1) Your brain needs downtime to solve problems and assimilate newly learned information.
“In a normal working day in modern America, there’s a sense of so much coming at you at once, so much to process that you just can’t deal with it all,” meditation teacher Michael Taft told Scientific American for an October, 2013, article. What Taft discovered (and research has confirmed) is that his brain needed downtime to assimilate all of the information that bombarded him throughout the work day.
Studies have shown that when your brain is relaxed, it continues to work. Say you learn a new skill at work, a complex skill. Not until you give your brain time to process what it just learned does that new skill actually take hold. In other words, to learn something new, you need to give your brain some quiet time to make it stick. Taking mini vacations—especially after a hard day or week of training—makes you better at your job because your brain assimilates new information much better when at rest.
2) Smaller, regular breaks from work increase happiness and productivity (and make you proud of the work you do).
Vacations don’t need to be weeks long in order to deliver positive benefits. A study completed at Erasmus University in Rotterdam showed that workers “who took time off were happier than those who did not, mostly because they were excited in anticipation for their vacation.” Interestingly, the positive vibes lasted well after folks returned to work after their break. Spreading out your vacation time into smaller, more frequent breaks helps extend those positive benefits throughout the year.
For more proof that short vacations are as valuable as longer breaks, Harvard researchers studied a group of employees at a consulting firm who were instructed by their bosses to take regular time off every single week. After just five months, the results were clear: regular breaks—sometimes referred to as “mental health days’—led to increased job satisfaction and an increased level of pride in the work being done.
3) Taking more vacations could earn you a bigger raise.
Improved mental and physical health, increased job satisfaction, stronger relationships with friends, family, and coworkers… these are the obvious, well-reported benefits of taking a vacation. But did you know that more vacation time has also been shown to result in better performance reviews?
According to the Deseret News National, “an internal study done by major accounting firm Ernst & Young in 2006 found vacation time was actually correlated with stronger performance. It concluded that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their performance reviews from supervisors were 8 percent higher the following year.” If that’s not reason enough to take a vacation, good luck convincing yourself to turn in that PTO request.
4) If you’re the boss, vacations help you see the big-picture.
You know the saying, you can’t see the forest for the trees? It means if you get bogged down in the minutia of the tiny details, you lose sight of the big picture… and with it, the ability to make long-term plans that keep your business on a path to prosperity.
Most studies focus on the benefits of vacations for employees, but bosses need to take breaks just as much as their subordinates. Business leaders are under constant pressure to steer the ship, keeping the company profitable and its employees employed. But it’s hard to chart a long-term course when all you focus on are the small waves directly ahead. “When bosses take time off, they come back more creative and able to think about the long run future of the company better,” The Huffington Post reported.
5) If everyone were to vacation at the same time, depression would decline and overall health would improve.
Often, the hard part about fully relaxing while on vacation is allowing yourself to forget about your coworkers. As you’re working on your tan at the beach, you know your cube mates are likely struggling to maintain a steady production schedule because they’re down a man (you).
In a recently published study, a team of researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden showed that when people took vacations at the same time—not necessarily together, or at the same destination—prescriptions for antidepressant medications dropped. The team coined a term for this phenomenon: collective restoration. The benefits of mass vacationing go beyond happiness. The study indicated that people were healthier, more rested, and more productive. Plus, their relationships were generally stronger.
Office or Beach? Pick Beach (As Often as You Can)
Although many Americans aren’t keen on taking vacation, fearing an insurmountable workload upon their return, taking a break from work is imperative for general health and well-being. Plus, studies have shown how vacations actually make workers better at their jobs.
If these five reasons aren’t enough to push you into booking that sorely needed cruise to the Bahamas, just remember that PTO is there for a reason… use it. For the sake of your own productivity and happiness, take that vacation.