by Kayla Sheely

The United States has a unique relationship with vacations. Ask almost anyone if they need a vacation, and you are sure to get a resounding “yes.” Yet if so many of us need a vacation, why do we fail to use our vacation days? Even before the pandemic, over half of Americans failed to use all their vacation days – letting a total of 768 million vacation days expire in 2018.

While we dream about vacations and time off, the numbers show it is not a priority. Unlike other advanced economies, employers are not required to offer vacation days in the United States. In fact, one in four workers has no paid time off at all. With travel limited and rolling lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, it can be tempting to not use our vacation days. But now, maybe even more than before, it is important to take a vacation.

One of the reasons using your vacation days is important is that it can help combat burnout. According to a study ran by Indeed, 52% of participants “are experiencing burnout in 2021.” In Indeed’s previous, pre-pandemic survey, that number was 43%, with millennials being the most affected demographic. What exactly is burnout? According to HelpGuide.org, it is “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.”

Taking regular vacations can help reduce stress by disconnecting from work and enhancing work-life balance. Here are 5 tips to help you make the most of your time off:

Prepare your team in advance for your time off.

The more you prepare for your vacation, the easier it will be to truly disconnect. Let those who work with you know about your time off well in advance so they can work with you to find coverage while you are gone or work any deadlines around your trip.

Use your email’s auto response to route issues while you are gone.

To get the most benefit from your time off, resist the urge to check in on your work email while you are gone. Instead, set your out of office auto-response so that anyone who emails you will have the tools they need in your absence. If someone is covering your work, include that person’s name and contact info. Clearly state the dates you will be gone and if you plan to check email or if you will be entirely unavailable.

Actually disconnect from work while you are off.

It can be tempting to just take a quick peek at your email while you are off to make sure “nothing big” came in. Remove the temptation by deleting your work apps off your phone until you get back. If you are still working on your trip, you won’t reap the full benefit of stepping away.

Don’t return home on a Sunday.

Have you ever gone on a trip and then felt like you needed a vacation after your vacation? Instead of coming home on a Sunday night and jumping back into work Monday morning, consider returning home Friday or Saturday to give yourself time to decompress before getting back to the grind. Alternatively, take Monday off to catch up on all that vacation laundry.

Plan shorter, more frequent trips.

Instead of one big trip a year, consider smaller, more frequent long weekends throughout the year. You can spread out the benefits of taking time off as well as cut down on the stress of planning a huge vacation. Plus, one of the benefits of taking a vacation is the anticipation. By having multiple, smaller trips throughout the year, you will give yourself more to look forward to.

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While it takes effort and planning to take time off from work, the benefits of disconnecting are worth it. Regular breaks from work can help you recharge, boost your creativity, and strengthen your work-life balance. Consider taking a short vacation to recharge before the end of the year!