Yes, You Should Still Take a Vacation

Remember the “what I did over summer break” essay that was required when returning to elementary school each year? Even when my family couldn’t afford to travel, it felt good recounting all the stuff I did outside of the classroom – like riding my bicycle for miles around the streets of Columbia, South Carolina each day, devouring all of the library books on the summer reading list, selling lemonade in front of our home with my little brothers and more. In our current pandemic reality with travel disruptions, job losses and escalating case counts, less people are opting to take a summer vacation than ever before. But you should still take time off if possible, and here are three reasons why:

1) Essential for your health.

To paraphrase an old proverb, all work and no play won’t just make you a “dull” person – it’s actually a one-way ticket to burnout. With massive layoffs and furloughs, many people who remained in place needed to work harder than ever before. All of which escalated levels of anxiety and stress. Not taking vacation doesn’t just harm your mental health and wellbeing – physical health is at risk too. CNN reported that the 1992 Framingham Heart Study, which still stands as the gold standard for long-term health studies, tracked workers over 20 years. It found that “men who don’t take vacations were 30% more likely to have heart attacks and for women it went up to 50%,” according to Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play When No One has the Time” and the director of the Better Life Lab at the New America Foundation.

2) Use it or lose it.

Hoarding your paid time off until travel bans are lifted? If so, you are not alone. According this Wall Street Journal article, fewer people are using their vacation time. The piece noted that “Workers at roughly 3,000 companies tracked by human-resources software company Zenefits, a subsidiary of YourPeople Inc., submitted approximately 63,000 requests to take vacation in April and May. By comparison, about 120,000 requests were submitted during the same time last year. Data from Namely, an HR software startup, shows a similar trend, finding that employees at 1,300 midsize firms used 14% less paid time off in May 2020 than they did in May 2019.” But the potential backlash in not using that earned vacation is that you might lose it permanently. Many companies trying to avoid a vacation usage crunch later this year are urging employees to take time off now or perhaps allowing a roll-over of up to 40 hours to next year. However, being able to shift a larger chunk of unused vacation to 2021 will be the exception to the rule for most organizations.

3) Makes you more effective at work.

When COVID-19 struck, I went into crisis communications mode. There were no more nights or weekends as our leadership team needed to navigate the constantly changing landscape of shutdowns and pandemic hot zones; food supply is considered part of the critical infrastructure, so our business never stopped. Considering the economic devastation that ensued worldwide, I was just grateful to keep a job I like. Working from home blurred the lines between my professional and personal life even further. My husband and I waved in passing as we attended constant Webex and Zoom meetings for our respective jobs. Like a gambler hoping to hit the one-armed bandit jackpot, I continued to check emails and texts non-stop for months despite shifting into a more manageable business “new normal.”

And it showed. I became less patient and more irritable. It was harder to focus on work and took longer to get things done. Frequently tired, I had less energy.  So I took a staycation last week. The whole point was to get out of my workday norm. I slept more and read good books. Worked out later than normal without having to meet any deadlines. Had long catch-up phone calls with friends. Got a manicure, protected by masks, a plexiglass barrier and numerous safety protocols. The highlight was driving to Griffin, Georgia, a town about 60 miles south of Atlanta, to visit a dear friend who had relocated there with her hubby and young son. We had a socially distant lunch and quick visit at her home before I needed to head back. It was the first time I was in an actual traffic jam since March – and what a glorious dose of normalcy that proved to be. Best of all, this time off allowed me to come back to work with my energy and enthusiasm fully restored. As the author of this  PopSugar article on the importance of vacations noted, “Everyone has their limits and pushing yourself too far can actually be counterproductive. Out of nearly 500 human resources managers, 90 percent believed that employees were more productive as a result of taking time off.”

How are you handling vacation during these uncertain times? Planning a staycation or venturing somewhere else for an actual getaway?

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