Early in her career, Lisa Martin says she was trying so hard to earn her keep and prove herself that she often gave up her allotted vacation, personal sick time and sometimes even lunch hours. One year, she ended up leaving an entire week and a half on the table, and only about 3 of those days rolled over into the next year.
“Looking back, I understand why I worked so hard, but I wish I had taken more vacations or at least a couple of 4-day weekends here and there,” she says. “My stress levels were through the roof, my metabolism came to a screeching halt and I gained a ton of weight that I’m still working very hard to shed in my early 30s.”
Martin’s experience isn’t unique. According to a study by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association, U.S. employees lost 169 million days off in 2013 by not using them. It found that employees took an average of 16 days of vacation in 2013, compared with 20.3 days in 2000. And the losses go beyond simply time off.
Losing Time, Health and Money
When people don’t take advantage of the days off they have, they lose a valuable opportunity to rest and regroup, psychologist Nikki Martinez says.
“There really is something to the mental health day,” she says. “Removing yourself for a day or 2 when a situation becomes stressful and demanding at work can give the person restored energy and fresh eyes.”
Taking short amounts of time off can help boost your productivity and creativity, reducing stress at work. If you don’t use your time off for these smaller breaks to decrease stress, it may accumulate to a point where you risk burnout. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the consequences of burnout include fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, heart disease, stroke and vulnerability to illness.
In addition, your paid time off is considered part of your compensation, and not using it is tantamount to leaving money on the table. According to the U.S. Travel Association report, the amount of unused time off in 2013 was equal to $52.4 billion, an average of $504 per employee.
How to Take Time Off
To ensure you get the time off you are due, Laura MacLeod, of From the Inside Out Project, offers these tips:
• Request time off as early as you’re allowed to ensure you get the days off you want. “Don’t expect to get time off in the summer, even if you’re owed it, if you ask in late May,” she says.
• Work with your manager to establish how work will be completed when you’re off. Doing so can allay any fears about projects left undone when you’re supposed to be relaxing.
• Keep accurate records of the time off you take and compare them carefully to company policy.
• If managers are able to be flexible regarding the policy, get changes in writing.
Martin is now the public relations director for Love Advertising, which she says encourages employees to take a full lunch break every day and to use up all vacation time.
“I got here through hard work, and I might have killed myself getting here, but we live and we learn from our mistakes,” she says.
This year, she took a weeklong trip to Napa, had a staycation during spring break and enjoyed a weeklong cabin stay during the holidays with her boyfriend.
“I’m much happier,” she says.
Mary Ellen Slayter is CEO and Founder of Reputation Capital Media Services. She has more than 15 years of experience writing about HR and financial services as a journalist and marketer. Any opinions expressed within this document are solely the opinion of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of Ebix or its personnel.