Americans aren't strangers to working long hours. Not only are we used to putting in our time at the office, but for plenty of us, the workday doesn't end once we're back at home. Whether it's accessing company emails remotely or responding to calls that come in late, many of us can easily say we spend the majority of our waking hours working in some shape or form.
You'd think, in that case, that more workers would embrace the idea of a much-needed break from the office. But not so. According to a 2016 Bankrate study, more than 50% of U.S. workers give up at least some of their paid vacation days each year. Worse yet, in a 2014 survey, 42% of Americans claimed they don't take vacation time at all.
But while the idea of forgoing vacation days might seem like the sort of thing that'd be good for your career, in reality, skimping on time away from the office could end up having the opposite effect. And that's why it pays to take the vacation time you're entitled to, even if it means letting those emails and voice messages pile up in the process.
You need the time to recharge
According to a study out of Stanford University, employees who work more than 50 hours a week start to see a decline in productivity. It therefore stands to reason that if you never take a break from the office, whether it's for a single day here and there or a couple of weeks at a time, you're likely to reach the point where your output begins to suffer.
Taking some time out of the office can give your mind and body a chance to regenerate. The result? You'll probably come back considerably more energized than you were before getting that break, and once that happens, your performance actually might improve. Just as importantly, taking vacation time will help you avoid burnout, an actual medical condition that countless workers succumb to.
In fact, burnout has become such a problem that many companies are taking steps to shield employees from it. Some are even going so far as to force workers to take their allotted vacation days, while others strongly encourage it.
Don't make employers rethink this crucial benefit
Here's another reason to use your vacation days: You don't want your employer to think you don't actually need them. If companies see that most workers aren't taking their allotted time, they may be driven to reduce the amount of paid time off employees are granted going forward. And then nobody wins.
If the idea of taking time off seems more stressful than it's actually worth, talk to your manager and enlist some support. Your boss might, for example, assign someone to cover a portion of your workload so that things don't pile up too badly in your absence. You might also designate a coworker or two to check your email while you're out of the office so you don't come back to an overly crowded inbox.
Finally, if you have a working spouse or partner, get that person on board as well. If you both put in for vacation time in order to clear your heads, it'll be harder to bail on one another by backing out at the last minute.
Though you'd think giving up vacation time would win you points with your employer, this often isn't the case. Forgoing vacation days is a huge mistake, and one that could actually derail your career if you aren't careful. You're better off taking the time you're entitled to and giving yourself a much-deserved break from the seemingly ever-present grind.
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