Nothing beats having time to unwind, but in the US, we have a tough time leaving work. Technology makes it possible to stay plugged in 24/7. Couple that with a belief that the only way we can get ahead is to avoid time off like the plague, and you'll see why we’re so tired and stressed.
We’re slow to change
If you read reports from 2013, you’d get the sense that we’re all doomed to work ourselves into an early grave. In 2013, 23% of American workers had no paid vacation time whatsoever. As of 2017, a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 73% of civilian workers have access to paid vacation time. In other words, 27% of the working population is still operating without paid vacation.
While the numbers don’t look too promising, the dialogue around time off is changing. We’ve seen an uptick in the percentage of employees with access to other types of leave, such as parental leave. Having a baby, taking care of a sick parent, or recovering from illness are not vacations by any stretch of the imagination. While these types of leave are an important part of changing the narrative around taking time off, Americans also need dedicated vacation time.
Americans don’t always use their vacation days
Just because some employers offer paid time off doesn’t mean Americans opt for a vacation. The number of vacation days that Americans took began to decline in the late 1990s. In 2016, the average American had 22.6 vacation days, but they only used 16.8 days off per year. (To be clear, these numbers can vary widely. Some reports put the average number of vacation days in America closer to 15 days per year. )
Planning time off can be difficult when PTO and sick leave are rolled together, which is the case for about 34% of US workers. This forces workers to save some of their paid time off in case they get sick.
How we stack up against other countries
Workers in European countries such as France, Finland, and Spain get an average of 30 vacation days per year, and they use them all. For people in the United Arab Emirates and Brazil, the same pattern holds true. Germans also get 30 days of vacation time, but they take 25-28 of those days.
In North America, vacation time offered by employers is roughly half what is offered in Europe. Our work habits and attitude toward vacation most closely resembles Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia. Paid time off in America varies widely by company. There is no mandated number of vacation days that Americans are entitled to have, nor are there any requirements for paid holidays.
It’s time to flip the script
While the number of vacation days varies by company, avoiding taking days off for recreation is a consistent pattern. One reason workers cited for not using vacation days was guilt. Many of us believe that we should show our dedication by showing up, and workers may feel that if they take their maximum number of vacation days, it’ll make them look bad. This fear among workers is even present when company leadership openly supports vacation.
When you negotiate a work contract, vacation time is part of the deal. If you’re lucky enough to have paid vacation days and you don’t take them, you’re basically donating your time to your employer. If there’s one thing we know in the wellness business, employees are great about showing up for their work, but they have a hard time showing up for themselves.
Why taking a break matters
Taking a vacation can give you a chance to be your best self. Here are a few of the many benefits of using that PTO.
1. Boost productivity
When you go to work, you want to be fully present. Feeling tired, frustrated, or bored with your job makes work seem harder. By stepping away from work and developing a healthy work-life balance, you’ll be more effective when you’re on the clock.
2. Reduce stress
No matter how much you enjoy your job, there are going to be times when you feel stressed. The stress-relieving benefits of stepping away from everything last beyond the vacation itself.
3. Help your heart
Of course, stress affects cardiovascular health, but vacation has a measurable positive benefit on heart health. Using your vacation days to recharge your batteries can reduce the risk of heart attack for men and women by 30% and 50% respectively.
4. Train yourself to relax
Our minds and bodies are excellent at adapting. Spend all day hunched in front of a computer, and your muscles change to accommodate the position. That’s why people who hunch a lot have trouble sitting up straight. The same holds true for our minds. If we spend all of our time in a state of anxiety, it becomes harder to return to calm.
When we practice yoga and meditation, we understand that we’re retraining our minds and bodies to take on certain patterns. We revisit healthy motion and healthy thought processes through these practices.
Vacation affords you similar mental benefits. When you’re on vacation, you’re strengthening mental patterns associated with happiness and relaxation. Practicing those connections make it easier to get back to a calm state – even when things at work go awry.
5. Feel happier
When you think back on your life, it’d be excellent to be able to say you had fun. It’s not always going to be a blast, and it’s not always going to be easy, but there should be some joy in the mix. Using your vacation days gives you a chance to explore new cultures, catch up on some rest, try something new, and spend time with your loved ones.
What are you waiting for?
Some jobs don’t offer paid time off (or time off at all), but if you have the opportunity, taking a vacation is a great way to spend your time. You can reap all those benefits, and as a bonus, you’ll be destigmatizing the idea of using your time off for a vacation. In America, we have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to our attitudes about taking time for ourselves.
A retreat could be the ideal way to spend a vacation
You may be thinking that the idea of planning a vacation seems more stressful than maintaining the status quo at work. Signing up for one of the Mindful Balance Retreats offerings could be your ticket to relaxation. You get the plane tickets, and we set you up with great teachers, beautiful lodging, and healthy food. The specific amenities vary for each destination, but we can help take the uncertainty and stress out of travel. Less stress means more time to revel in the awesome beauty this world has to offer.
Use a few of your vacation days with us. Check out our upcoming retreats HERE.