Want To Be More Productive At Work? Take a Vacation!

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

Do you take it?

You should. All the cool kids are doing it.

Except they’re not. The United States is the only country in the developed world that doesn’t force companies to provide paid vacation time for their workers. And Americans, when they do get vacation time, don’t even use it all, leaving days behind that roll over and roll over and just keep rolling on into the sunset.

We like to think it’s our work ethic and our devotion that keeps us at our desks when we could be taking an earned and paid-for vacation, but research reveals the opposite: If we really want to be better at our jobs, and therefore more valued by our employers, we should take some time off already. Do you do your best work when you’re exhausted and stressed out? I didn’t think so. Not only does it benefit us as human beings to actually REST once in a while and ENJOY OURSELVES instead of going about our lives in a hectic, ALL CAPS style, but it helps our companies, our healthcare system and our economy.

We need so much more than to step away for a few minutes, we need time to let our brains unwind and our souls relax. When you come back from vacation, whether you spent your hard-earned cash on something exotic, or kept it to a simple road trip, you’re happier, you’re healthier, and you’re ready to plunge back in with vigor.

“The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound,” says Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles who specializes in stress and relationship management. “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”

It’s also good for your co-workers, who don’t like to be around you when you’re miserable and are a lot less likely to want to work with you on projects. When you’re happy, they’re happy, and when everyone’s happy, collaborative work is a lot more fruitful.

I know, not all vacations are really that restful. When my husband and I had a toddler and a baby who didn’t sleep and couldn’t afford to get separate rooms for everybody, nap schedules and snack needs ruled our lives, and we had some pretty stressful vacations, too. But it still made both of us better at our jobs, if only for our renewed gratitude for school hours and babysitters, and the relief of being able to sit down for a few minutes without someone tugging at our sleeves with a request. My co-workers never (OK, rarely) came up to me proclaiming their boredom or their hunger, and so I sort of felt like I was on vacation from my vacation, and had renewed energy for the work ahead of me.

So what keeps us bound to our desks? If it’s not lazy or indulgent to take that time off, and if you’re lucky enough to get paid to do it, what’s holding you back? Let this inspire you: Europeans, who get 20–30 days of paid vacation a year (and take them), live longer and spend less on health care than Americans. If you don’t care that much about your company, at least do it for yourself.

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