why all employees should use their vacation days

You’d think it would be unnecessary to explain the value of taking a vacation. Who among us doesn’t dream about long weekends, taking off two sun-filled weeks in the summer, or indulging in a few days of staying in and cozying up for Christmas? You would think it’s pretty clear that a break from our routines and the demands and stresses of work life shouldn’t have to be mandated. But you’d be wrong.

Canadian workers aren’t quite as vacation-resistant as our Japanese colleagues. In case you’re unaware, Japan’s work ethic is so historically extreme they’ve developed a word – karoshi – for death by too much work. We’re not quite that dramatic here in North America but we do operate under a work ethos that sees many of us live to work, rather than work to live, the way our European colleagues do. Canada scores low on rankings for the number of mandated vacation days per year, with just 10. Compare that with countries near the top of the list such as the UK (28), Sweden, Norway, Denmark and France (all 25).

millennials are most likely to leave vacation unused

According to Expedia’s Vacation Deprivation Study (yes, that's a thing!) 31 million vacation days are left unused by Canadians each year. The fact that such a study exists and is referred to as ‘deprivation’ is, by itself, telling. Among its results, it found the average permanent, full-time Canadian worker received 17.3 vacation days in 2016, but only took 14. Interestingly, the study identified millennials as the demographic most likely to leave vacation days unused because they’re too busy at work. Given Millennials’ bad rap for being self-indulgent and work-shy, it’s an eye-opening statistic. The study also found that when Millennials do take vacations, they more likely check in frequently regardless of where they’re vacationing, thanks to the connectedness of email and mobile devices. Ontario and B.C. workers tied to take the fewest vacation days (just 14).

should vacations be mandated? (spoiler alert: yes they should)

What’s the big deal? People shouldn’t be forced to take vacations if they don’t want to, should they? If someone wants to work straight-through and is happy to do so, isn’t that a sign of dedication and commitment? Doesn’t the organization benefit from the efforts of these workaholics? The answer is actually pretty clear: no! Taking vacation is good for you, whether you like it or not!

In a study reported by Forbes, managers say they recognize the benefits of vacation time for employees and the companies they work for. Statistically, time off results benefits including higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee engagement and retention, and significant health benefits, all of which measurably and directly affect an organization’s bottom line.

Despite the above findings, many employees operate under the impression that taking time off makes them appear less dedicated. They may be on to something, as nearly 34% of managers discourage leave. Others support the idea of time off in principle, but workloads and imposed deadlines make taking a break all but impossible. Given the countless benefits of vacation, it’s hard to understand why.

even short breaks make a difference

There’s evidence that short breaks will help you reap some of the same benefits of a full-on vacation. Though we strongly urge you not to use that as an excuse to avoid taking vacation! A few moments of deep breathing with your eyes closed will reduce blood pressure and the effects of stressful deadlines. Mental breaks are just as important as resting your muscles after exercise. Breaks reduce fatigue, help you manage stress, focus, and improve your mood.

Schedule daily breaks into your workday. Just because everyone else eats at their desk doesn’t mean you have to. Take 20 minutes, strap on your running shoes and get outside for a walk. Or take the stairs in your building – anything to get your heart rate up, breathe deeply and enjoy a change of scenery (not that your office stairwell will likely have much to offer in that area). Make sure you unplug in the evenings and on weekends. That’s your time to spend doing things you enjoy, like time and activities with friends and family.

so what are all these benefits of vacation we keep talking about?

a more engaged workforce.

A strong work culture is one that allows employees the freedom to be successful and happy. And that includes taking vacation time as they need it. There’s a growing number of employers who offer unlimited vacation days to employees, recognizing that if they hire smart dedicated people, they can certainly trust them to know when they need a vacation. Allowing workers the freedom and autonomy to make decisions for themselves (including about vacation) almost always leads to a happier and more engaged workforce. And as an added bonus, happy employees tend to stick around longer and reduce unwanted turnover.

time to recharge.

Vacations aren’t just about going places and seeing things. In fact, a great vacation doesn’t even necessitate travel. Staying home with a cozy blanket and Netflix queued up can be just as restful, maybe even more so, than hitting up a tropical destination (because. let’s face it. air travel is rarely stress-free.) Our point: vacations are also a break from your work routine. They allow you to take a step back from stress and deadlines, and just chill.

work smarter, not harder.

Those who put in the longest hours aren’t necessarily the ones getting the most done. Would you rather a refreshed and sharp employee who’s raring to go, or a tired, overworked employee who’s going through the motions? The first employee is going to be more accurate, more productive, and more creative. All you have to do is give them a little breathing room to recharge when they need some downtime.

reduce burnout.

Think of work as a marathon, not a sprint. For most of us, our career is a long-haul commitment that spans decades. If you treat work like a sprint and give it everything you have up front, you’re going to injure yourself and cause irreparable damage. You’re better off pacing yourself, allowing breaks to recharge and maintaining a steady pace you can maintain for years to come.

productivity increases.

This might seem like an oxymoron, but we assure you it’s not. There’s a whole bunch of studies available on the subject of how breaks are an important part of being productive. Take a look at time management methods like the Pomodoro Technique which assert that short but frequent breaks are essential to maintaining productivity. It’s a ‘there can be no light without darkness situation.’ Sure, at first glance they seem like polar opposites, but they’re necessary to one another.

health benefits galore.

Taking vacation is linked with a wide variety of health benefits. A decrease in stress levels. A stronger immune system. Heart-health and a reduced risk of heart disease. Mental health benefits. Better sleep. Relationship building. A better question might be, are there any downsides for your health? (The answer seems to be no, as far as we can tell.) So, just take a vacation, okay? It’s better for you than any superfood will ever be.

more work is accomplished.

This one ties back to productivity, but we think it’s worth noting, especially since a frequent excuse for not taking vacation is: ‘I have too much to do!’ It’s been shown that this argument rings hollow because you get more done in less time, when you’re operating at 100% thanks to a refreshing vacation. Consider students whose study habits include last minute, all night cramming. They frequently fare worse than their peers who get a full night’s sleep before an exam, provided, of course, they’ve studied over time.

Athletes know they have to pace themselves or they’ll burn out early and have no resources left for the final push to the finish line. The same goes for employees. The most productive, effective and creative workers are those who take time to refuel and take care of themselves. Humans are unable to go flat out all the time without rest and nourishment; that kind of effort is simply not sustainable. The secret to longevity is working smarter, not harder or longer. You’ll work smarter and perform better if you take the time to care for yourself. Leave work at work and have some fun. If that’s not part of your job description, it should be.

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