I recently had the opportunity to go on an ‘off-season’ vacation to Italy. It was wonderful, but that is not the point. The point is that I was initially scared to take the vacation because I was worried about taking time off of work. When I shared this concern with an Italian, they were shocked.
My time in Italy taught me that the United States doesn’t have a strong vacation culture. Unlike every other developed nation in the world, the U.S. has no mandated number of days off for employees. About one-fourth of American workers get no paid vacation at all. Those whose employers offer it receive an average of about 10 days a year. And 54 percent of American workers didn’t even use the days off they earned.
Doing some research, I learned that men who don’t take vacations were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack and for women, it went up to 50 percent! Those numbers even held true even after researchers took into account other health factors like diabetes, cigarette smoking, income levels, and obesity. The conclusions from the study have been backed up by other similar research studies and show how the body reacts to a lifestyle of stress. This is real evidence that vacations are important to your physical health!
I grew up with parents who didn’t receive a lot of vacation and often were too busy to take time off. When I started working myself, I realized that I didn’t know what to do with my time off because I never learned it from my parents. It’s hard to value something that’s never been experienced.
How do we fix this? It might sound strange, but vacations take practice.
How do you get in the vacation habit? Like any other goal, it requires planning. If you are like me, the key reason I struggle with not taking vacations is that I don’t feel I can leave work. But, I have learned that it can be done with proper organization. Start by blocking your calendar to actually schedule time for a trip. Once the vacation is on your schedule, even if it’s six or eight months away, you can organize around it. Look at your workflow to clarify your priorities, delegate, and talk openly with your colleagues about your time off. This will help prevent it from being an unexpected surprise when you’re out of town. Although it can be a bit time consuming, planning will force you to prioritize your goals over time and can be a net benefit, helping you work smarter and more efficiently.
Start viewing vacation time as a non-negotiable — like the dentist or yearly checkup, it’s a vital part of your health care, so start treating it as such. Just like any other habit, this takes time – but this is something that I have a feeling you will enjoy. Now, go block some time and start planning your getaway. Who knows, maybe our paths will cross abroad!