August is prime vacation time, and many Americans are enjoying some earned time off. Whether it’s a trip to the shore, a family reunion, exploring a national park or museum, or even a fun “staycation,” we are working harder than ever and deserve our vacations.
Americans average fewer vacation days than any other developed nation. Even so, unfortunately, the national average of workers who take vacations is only 34%. In 2001, 57% of employees stated that they weren’t planning on using all their earned days. Working harder but enjoying fewer days off? That’s a recipe for high stress levels and burnout.
We are reluctant to take vacation time for many reasons. Because of the recent recession, many of us are unable to spend extra money on expensive trips or even local excursions. Also because of the recession, we’re reluctant to ask for time off in fear of being viewed as not dedicated enough. Obviously, life goes on even when we’re away from the workplace, and we may miss choice assignments or important announcements. Lastly, and most importantly, Americans are just plain overworked, and an absence of one or two weeks means a dreaded pile-up of emails and unfinished projects.
But there are many benefits to taking some time away from the office:
- Just the anticipation alone, and the fun in planning adventures, have beneficial effects on workplace attitudes
- Time off provides needed rest and a mental health break
- Vacation is an opportunity to strengthen or rebuild relationships, and reconnect with family and friends
- It’s a chance to act like a kid again – sleep late or go crazy at an amusement park
- Being away from the workplace can actually help generate new business ideas, while your mind is relaxed and away from day to day operations
Human Resources can set the tone to foster an environment that allows employees to use their earned vacation time. Encourage managers and employees to take time off, in accordance with company policy. Ensure that your vacation policy is understood and easily accessible. Also, as with many other employee benefits and office policies, it’s critical that HR, along with upper management, sets the example in allowing themselves time off too.
Thoughtful preparation for a planned absence can make your manager more comfortable with your absence, and give you more peace of mind as you enjoy your time away from work. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Planning schedule: work out your department’s vacation schedule well in advance, to prevent unacceptable overlaps.
- Delegate: in a perfect world, we’d all have back-ups for our job responsibilities. In the absence of this, use this as an opportunity to cross train individuals or give developmental assignments in order to delegate your work. Bargain with a co-worker so you will cover during their vacation absence.
- Limit emails: use the email “out of office” feature to list very specific alternate contact information while you’re away. This can help cut down on the amount of emails you’ll have when you return.
- Get help: if it fits in your budget, bring in temporary help. Many agencies can provide workers with specific expertise, such as accounting, HR, finance, legal, medical, publishing and sales.
Above all, resist the temptation to check your emails using your smartphone or other device. Skype can be a wonderful tool, but don’t plan on attending any meetings remotely when you should be throwing a Frisbee with your teenagers on the beach. Bringing work responsibilities and stress along on what should be a fun, relaxing and reenergizing time completely defeats the purpose of taking vacation time.
You’ve earned your vacation time – take it! You’ll return to work relaxed and engaged, and ready to tackle your job with renewed focus and enthusiasm.