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Forfeiting the Best Days of Your Life

“Would you do your job for free? And do you take all your vacation days? If you say no to the first, you had better say yes to the second.” – Harvard Business Review

Project: Time Off reported that, in 2016, Americans left 662 million vacation days unused. Of these, 206 million days weren’t rolled over or paid out, meaning American workers gave up $66.4 billion in benefits last year. The average employee donated $604 in work time to their employer.

Your vacation days are part of your pay. Not using them all is like ripping up your check. Volunteer work is admirable, of course, but while you may choose to volunteer time at your local food bank, I don’t think a lot of employees intend to volunteer time at their regular 9-to-5. Yet, more than half of Americans have been leaving vacation time on the table for years.

Hopefully, you enjoy your work. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from doing a job that you’re good at and being valued by your peers as well as your boss. The desire to be seen as successful and get ahead is part of what leads to the overwork and stress that comes from skipping vacations to stay at work. However, study after study has shown that employees who vacation regularly perform better on the job than those who don’t, since they exhibit better overall health and well-being than their workaholic counterparts and come back from vacation refreshed and better equipped to focus on the tasks at hand.

Conversely, “work martyrs” believe that sacrificing their vacation days (volunteering their work time) makes them appear more devoted to the job which will, in turn, advance their careers. Not only is that not true, but research demonstrates the opposite. Project: Time Off confirms that work martyrs are LESS likely to get the promotions or pay raises they seek. Those go to the vacationers who are spending more time out of the office and are therefore able to do better work when they’re in it.

Forbes outlines why the digital era makes it even more difficult for us to take a break:

Then let’s add the shift to mobile work, which paradoxically tethers workers more to their office. In the early 1900s era of factory labor and time cards, workers left their jobs behind when they clocked out. But now, company smartphones and laptops have enabled employees to take their work home with them. Since employees can never truly unplug, they’re burdened with a seemingly unending task list—and this perceived work glut keeps them from taking vacations. Nearly half of working women (46%) and men (40%) say they avoid vacations because they don’t want to return to a “mountain of work.”

It seems like modern workers need to take a cue from “the good ole days” and learn how to leave the office at the office. If you can’t get your job done in 40 hours a week, either you need better time management, or your company needs to hire more employees to handle the workload. You’re not going to get paid more money because you’re doing the work of 4 people, and you’re not going to get the help you need at work as long as you’re willing to sacrifice all of your personal time to volunteer at your job. Worst of all, you’re sacrificing your health to job-related stress and never getting the rest your body needs.

So, get out your calendar and schedule some vacation time. You’ll feel better, and when you get back, you’ll work better, too.

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