Vacation Days Are Healthy

Here’s why — and how — to use them

No one likes leaving free money on the table. But is leaving “paid time off” untaken just as bad? About 52 percent of working Americans gave up vacation days in 2016, according to a study by In fact, 25 percent of younger millennials (ages 18 to 25) said they’d use none of their paid vacation days last year.

The reasons vary. Some respondents said they plan to save vacation days for next year. Others said they have too much work. “We have seen an uptick in annual hours [worked] as people take less time off in the form of sick leave or vacation time,” according to a report by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Almost 30 percent of management and legal workers said they worked 45 or more hours per week. About 20 of workers in farming, fishing and forestry industries, 17 percent of those in architecture and engineering, and 15 percent of business and financial services employees said the same.

Why vacation days are good for you

It can become a problem. “People don’t work smarter or harder when they aren’t taking vacations,” says Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist. “It’s really not good in terms of your productivity.” In fact, it’s usually when we’re at rest that the biggest problems get solved and the greatest innovations happen — not when we’re sitting at a desk trying to gut out a problem. Psychologists learn that problem-solving is a process that involves different steps including collecting information and mulling it over. The mulling works best when people are relaxed and not trying to force it. “People report left and right that this happens after vacation,” says Yarrow. There’s also the idea that vacations are a chance to let the world around us teach us to think differently, which can foster great ideas. Plus, vacations offer a chance to invest in personal relationships, which can be a source of rejuvenation and inspiration in and of themselves.

Navigating “unlimited vacation days”

All of which is why you should make an effort to take those vacation days you’re given. But what if you work somewhere with an unlimited vacation day policy? That may sound great when you get the job offer, but after some time in the office, it can translate to anxiety regarding expectations. “[With] no clarification on what it means in practice, people will either take none or feel very guilty when they do,” says Alexandra Douwes, co-founder and head of strategy and operations at Purpose Generation, a millennial strategy and insights firm. You’ll be best off if you ask around enough to figure out what’s acceptable. “I can tell you from a psychological perspective that most people do better when they have some sort of guidelines or boundaries,” says Yarrow. Once you have a better sense of your employer’s general expectations, you can take advantage of the opportunity to recharge with periodic breaks.

Negotiating for more paid time off

If you feel like you don’t have enough vacation days for the kinds of breaks you want? Try negotiating. Start with a few data points — we’re talking concrete numbers and metrics — that illustrate the value you add to the company. These could be page views, sales, audience growth and more. You can also bring up accomplishments, like new tasks you’ve taken on, the fact you haven’t missed a deadline in X months/years and even mini-testimonials and feedback you’ve received from clients or colleagues. (When you get a chance, create an “Accomplishments” folder for all of this so you can bring it back out at your annual review or whenever you need it.) Wait for an upcoming review or ask your manager for a meeting, and when you go in, say something like, “I’ve been delivering on everything you’ve asked me to do and aiming to go above and beyond… but I need a few extra days in order to keep going at this pace.” Ahead of time, come up with a plan to make sure your work will get done and no balls will be dropped while you’re gone, says Douwes. This could involve speaking with a colleague about taking over a few of your duties during those days, spending a few extra hours preparing in the office the week before taking days off or sharing an emergency number to reach you just in case.

Jean Chatzky

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