American workers don’t use all their vacation days, leaving an estimated 577 million unused days on the table each year. Even when we do get the chance to get away, most of us take our work along for the ride, toting our laptops along and keeping our smartphones glued to our sides.
U.S. workers recieve an average of 14 paid vacation days, so why aren't we using them? Some employees like to stockpile days off for future use, while others wait to get the payout for unused days. Others cite the difficulties in scheduling vacations, financial woes, failure to plan or fear that taking their vacation days may be viewed negatively. While many of these may be legitimate concerns, using those days off are crucial for your health and your career.
We are all aware that stress is harmful to our health. It can cause problems ranging from ulcers to body aches to insomnia. As an antidote to stress, vacations are irreplaceable, allowing employees to take time out to truly rest and recharge.
The risks of skipping vacation days may be more serious than we realize. The Framingham Heart Study, the longest-running study on cardiovascular disease, found that men at high risk for coronary heart disease, and who failed to take annual vacations, were 32% more susceptible to dying from a heart attack. A study conducted by Marshfield Clinic of 1,500 women in rural Wisconsin determined that those who vacationed less often than once every two years were more likely to suffer from depression and increased stress than women who took vacations at least twice a year.
An overworked employee can be more than just physically unhealthy, too -- exhaustion, poor decision-making, impatience, and low output can all negatively impact your company's bottom line, as well. Taking some time off actually improves a worker’s productivity at work. A study from Ernst & Young found that every ten hours of vacation time taken by an employee improved his/her year-end performance rating by 8 percent and lowered turnover. Former NASA scientists determined that people who take vacations experience an 82 percent increase in job performance once they return, with longer vacations having more of an impact than short ones.
How can you convince yourself (and your employees) to utilize vacation time? Here are a few suggestions:
- Consider an unlimited vacation policy.
- Try a "use it or lose it" approach, limiting the amount of rollover and/or payouts for unused vacation days.
- Set an example by taking vacation yourself!
- Remind employees that vacation can be taken in small increments. Even just taking the day or the afternoon off can do wonders for improving morale.
- Make sure employees are cross-trained so that responsibilities can be easily covered by another member of the team.
- Allow employees to earn more vacation time over the course of the year. It serves as a great incentive for hard workers, and helps with those individuals that feel the need to hoard PTO until the end of the year.