Many of us fantasize about switching off email and chat notifications and retreating to a beach where no communication app can intrude. Fantasies aside, how often does the typical employee actually use their vacation time each year? Turns out, not nearly often enough.
According to a recent survey from Pew Research Institute, less than 50 percent of Americans take all the PTO they’re offered. Meanwhile, 81 and 63 percent, respectively, describe their jobs as stressful or overwhelming, at least to some extent.
The correlation between stress and burnout is widely acknowledged and proven. In this month’s installment of The Productivity Box, we aim to emphasize the importance of taking vacations. Let’s explore the advantages, both for mental health and physical well-being, that stem from time off—and how it can subsequently enhance work performance upon your return to the workplace.
The mental health benefits
Did you know that 30 percent of U.S. employees rate work-life balance as the most desirable job quality? Here’s the thing: prioritizing vacation time can help cultivate that sense of balance. In fact, some healthcare professionals actually consider travel a form of therapy.
Nature-based vacations, in particular, can alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression, while nurturing positive emotions such as enjoyment, satisfaction, and well-being. Even a brief off-the-grid trip, away from work pressure, can have amazing benefits for you as it can
- Elevate your mood
- Increase mental resilience
- Protect you from burnout
This means you can come back to work feeling productive and ready to jump back in.
The physical health benefits
Being healthy allows you to be more productive. If you’re out sick, you’re not working toward that next deadline or signing a new project. While those psychological benefits are reason enough to use your PTO, it doesn’t stop there. Being intentional with your vacation time boosts physical wellness too. The BMC Public Health Journal found that a 1-week vacation filled with regular activity has a positive effect on blood pressure, heart and nervous system function, and sleep quality.
The keyword here is regular activity. Over the course of a week, researchers followed two groups of travelers: those who played golf on their vacation and those who went biking or Nordic walking. After this vacation, the golfers’ health score increased from 15.3 to 20.59, and the bikers’ or Nordic walkers’ score increased from 16.45 to 19.59. What’s more, the wellness improvements were still noticeable a week after returning from vacation.
Further research from the Psychology and Health Journal shows that even just anticipating a vacation can make you feel more relaxed! This, in turn, can lower your heart rate, boost your immune response, and mitigate your risk of cardiovascular disease or hypertension.
The impact of vacation time on work performance
Alright, we’ve established that a vacation can work wonders for mental and physical health, but how does this translate to your job performance? To answer that question, check out these findings from the American Psychological Association. After a vacation:
- 66 percent of U.S. employees are more energized.
- 58 percent exhibit stronger productivity.
- 57 percent feel more motivated.
- 55 percent think their quality of deliverables is better.
When the brain has a chance to unplug and recover from the daily strain of work, your cognitive resources will replenish themselves. This leads to:
- More creativity
- Flexible thinking
- Attentional focus
- Problem solving
- Less exhaustion
- Higher job satisfaction overall
In fact, another survey of more than 1,000 U.S. employees found that 70 percent of those who take regular vacations feel driven to contribute to their organization’s success. What’s more, 65 percent want to continue working there a year from now.
In other words, using PTO can do more than elevate performance outcomes, it can reduce turnover rates as well. This is massively beneficial for team morale, workplace culture, and business bottom line.
Take a vacation—and reap the benefits when you return
A whopping 68 percent of Americans admit to working on vacation, while another 46 percent have a hard time switching off the notifications and allowing themselves to fully relax. Despite what you might think, this mindset won’t make you more productive, but quite the opposite.
To witness improvements in both your work performance and overall well-being, it’s imperative to allocate time for breaks. Go ahead, schedule that vacation, allow yourself to unwind, enjoy, and rejuvenate. Returning to work, you’ll bring back revitalized mental acuity and physical vigor to excel at your job.