3 Reasons You Haven’t Used Your Vacation Time (And Why You Should)

vacation-beachPaid Time Off (PTO) is an amazing benefit of working for someone else.  It is something we ask about during a job interview and even try to negotiate.  We fight for our vacation time.


And then we start working.  And then the year draws to a close.  And then we decide how much of this cherished PTO we should carry over or cash in.


So, why don’t we fully utilize something we fought so hard to obtain?


Many of my clients approach vacations with a feeling of dread.  They enjoy spending time away, but, oh, the cost of taking time off!


The result is that majority of Americans — 55% — did not use all of their allowed vacation time last year.


There must be some pretty powerful motivators for American workers to donate an average of two days of earned vacation back to their employers.  Why does this occur?



3 Reasons You DON’T Use Vacation Time


Our companies are not necessarily the enemy.  Without our employers, we wouldn’t have such luxuries as food and shelter.  And, our employers give us vacation for reasons that we will discuss below.  For now, though, let’s analyze why we are not taking advantage of the benefits we have earned.



1.)  You get punished – before, during, and after


The week before you leave is horrible – you are trying to do twice the work in half the time.  You have doubled up on meetings and the “before you leave, can you…” emails and interruptions skyrocket.


While you are gone, you may still answer emails and take calls.  So, you’ve gone through the pain of departure yet haven’t stopped working.


When you return to the office, your email inbox overfloweth and your colleagues interrupteth, even when you didn’t truly unplug from work!  It’s exasperating.



2.)  You pay twice for the vacation – literally


I worked with a physician client several years ago who, when describing how he budgeted money for vacations.


He said, “I take the actual costs of the travel and double it.”


This physician was in private practice and, when he wasn’t seeing patients, he wasn’t making money.  So, there was the actual cost of the vacation and the lost income from his patients seeing another provider while he was gone.


This is the quandary of all of those in the eat-what-you-kill work world.  The vacation expenses are only a part of the total cost of being away.



3.)  You are a work martyr


Reasons for work martyrdom are as varied as the people afflicted by the condition. As a work martyr, overwork is a part of your identity, preventing you from fully engaging in other aspects of your life.


Here is a non-exhaustive list of symptoms:


  • Nobody can do what I do
  • I don’t know who I am if I’m not working
  • If I leave, they might think I am replaceable
  • My family will understand
  • I am too….BUSY!


If you are a work martyr, self-awareness is key. Recognize this tendency and be alert for the symptoms. Then see if you can change how you respond.


If your company is supportive of taking time off, then you’ll want to work on changing your attitude toward this earned benefit.


However, if your organization actively encourages you to put in tons of overtime and leave vacation days on the table, it may not be a problem you can solve by yourself.


At that point, you’ll want to consider looking for a new employer.



3 Reasons We MUST Take Vacations


There is a return on investment (ROI) of taking vacations.  If there weren’t, then nobody would do it and companies wouldn’t pay for it.  So, what are they?



1.)  Every sentence needs punctuation.


Time flies – whether you’re having fun or just plain busy.


The only way to “stop” time is to punctuate it with key experiences and events that make you pause and remember.


Without vacations, our years may end up being a blur of busyness.


It is important to separate your vacations from your work and enjoy those memories that you build.  Vacations are life’s punctuation marks.



2.)  There are physical and mental benefits of taking time off.


Vacations lower stress, decrease heart disease, improve creativity, enrich relationships, and improve productivity.


Truly, they’re so good for you that it’s nuts. On some level, you already know this.


It may feel like you’re getting ahead by staying chained to your desk, but it’s an illusion.


Do you want to be lower-stress, healthier, more creative, more connected, and more productive? Who doesn’t?



3.)  You absolutely, unequivocally, will die someday.


As unpleasant as it may be to consider, everybody dies.


So what life do you want flashing before your very eyes at the moment you transition? How long can you really put off spending time with your loved ones?


Sorry to go all “Cat’s in the Cradle” on you, but our time on this planet is finite.


I find that even my most brilliant, successful clients need to reminded of that every now and then. It’s easy to lose perspective.


This is a chance to find it again.


So what now?


Vacating is not just for summertime – it’s a year-round necessity.  Right?


First, plan your time away for the next 12 months and get it on the calendar.  Aim to use most of your allowed PTO (paid time off).  This is an important step.


Then, be smart about how you prepare for your time away from work. On my blog, I shared a helpful checklist for what to do two weeks before you go, a week before, the day before, and so on.


Last, permit yourself to unplug from work.


Temporarily disconnect your work email from your phone – this is typically a quick swipe in your settings.  If you are a company leader, you are the example for others to follow.


It is time to figure out how the next sentence of your life will be punctuated.


Plan a vacation – and make it an exclamation point!


This post originally appeared on the Redbooth blog.


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


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