This is why you should use your vacation days

Not only is taking time off good for your mental and physical health, but it can also make you a better employee and help your career.

This is why you should use your vacation days

You earned your vacation time.

We all know about the mental health benefits of taking vacation days. You need to give your body and mind a restorative break, no matter what industry you're in. And at many companies, a use-it-or-lose-it policy means that if you don’t take the days off, you’re essentially working those days for free. That in and of itself should be enough motivation for you to set your out of office email reply and take off. But we’re not good at taking the vacation time we’ve rightfully earned. The most recent stats from the U.S. Travel Association found that the average number of unused PTO days increased to 6.5 days in 2018, up from 6 days in 2017. American workers failed to use 768 million days of PTO in 2018—a 9% increase from 2017.

It doesn’t look like we’re going to get better at PTO anytime soon because, well, Covid-19. Many workers aren’t bothering to take their vacation time this summer because there’s nowhere to go, thanks to travel restrictions and quarantine requirements and the like.

But it goes deeper than that. According to a recent Robert Half survey of more than 1,000 U.S. office workers:

  • 37% will save their vacation time for later in the year, hopefully to travel.
  • 28% anticipate taking fewer days off in the summer months compared to last year, because of COVID-19; 16% are taking more time off.
  • 22% would like to take a vacation but are tightening their belts due to the pandemic.
  • 20% will take days off for self-care and mental health.
  • 14% won't be logging off because they have too much work to do.

It’s understandable to want to save your PTO days for when the risk of Covid lessens and you can travel and have a real vacation, rather than just taking time off and staying home. But you might end up with more vacation days at the end of the year than you can actually take. Remember when we mentioned that thing about working for free if you don’t take PTO? Yeah, you don’t want that to happen.

But you’re not the only person to blame if you don’t take those vacation days this year. The Robert Half survey also found the following:

  • 66% of workers have received no communication about using vacation days.
  • 25% say their employer or manager has encouraged them to take time off.
  • 9% were discouraged from taking time off.

These troubling statistics point to signs of overworking and impending burnout. Yet not taking vacation time has been linked to burnout, poor performance, and lack of job satisfaction. So what’s a worker to do?

Simple answer: Use your vacation days if you can. While you can’t take a Caribbean cruise or go backpacking through Europe or the Southwest, you can unplug. And that can do wonders for your well-being.

Below are a few reasons why it's essential to take a vacation days and some tips on how to fully disconnect on your time off.

Vacation days are good for your personal health

Ever notice how you feel so much better when you’re on vacation? The reason goes beyond those fancy drinks with tiny umbrellas in them. Science routinely provides evidence vacations days are great for your mental and physical health. 

A study by the American Psychological Association found that vacations make for great stress relievers. Even stress-related physical complaints like headaches and backaches can vanish for as much as five weeks after taking a vacation, according to a study from the University of Vienna. Multiple studies have also found that workers who take vacations are less at risk of heart disease.

The point is, if all you do is work, work, work, then you’ll burnout, and your body might end up paying the price. Even just spending a day curled up with a good book, taking a scenic drive, or catching up with friends via video chat are great ways to prevent that from happening.

Not working will make you a better worker

Want to do better at work? Rather than put more time in, the secret might be to take more time off. An internal Ernst & Young study found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation time employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved by 8%. Tell that to your workaholic boss.

Take off and stay off

Before you leave, Monster Career Expert Vicki Salemi says you need to remind your boss, colleagues, and clients of your planned absence, and brief whoever will be taking over your responsibilities while you’re away.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is actually sticking to that plan and not giving in to the temptation of checking emails or voicemails.

“When you indicated that you’re away and not checking messages, it looks weird if you start responding to emails,” Salemi says. “Especially if you’re a boss, you absolutely need to set an example to your team that when you’re OOO (out of office), you need to stay OOO.” To do this, you may have to keep your phone out of sight in order for work to be out of mind.

Got a PTO buddy? Salemi suggests using them as an accountability buddy—if you check in at the office, you owe them money. Think of it like a swear jar, but for work stuff.

Don’t be a work martyr

You deserve the joy of looking forward to a little getaway; the world won’t end because you’re out of pocket for a week or more. Unfortunately, lots of workers opt against taking time off because they believe no one else can do the job. Others have reputations as “work martyrs,” and fear that their absence will create too much of a burden for their co-workers.

Sometimes, those feelings can stem from a boss who makes you feel guilty for taking a vacation—your rightful and well-deserved vacation.

“It’s one thing if your employer discourages you from taking a vacation during a busy season, but it’s quite another to discourage you from taking any time off in general,” Salemi says. “It sends a strong signal that they don’t value you as a person.”

In that case, it’s time to look for a new job. Need some help with that? Join Monster for free todayAs a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. You deserve to work for a company that believes in work-life balance and knows that a guilt-free vacation days will make you a more effective employee.