American workers everywhere consider taking time off from work to be a sign of weakness or lack of dedication. They may not verbalize it that way, but we're a nation that believes that hard work gets you ahead, and often that means never taking vacation -- even when you really need one.
In fact, 21% of U.S. workers said they have unused vacation days, according to recent data from Kimble Applications. What's harder to gauge is the number of American workers who take time off but don't fully commit to it by fully disconnecting from the office.
As I write this article from the coffee shop on a cruise ship, I understand. I'm on vacation -- but not entirely, because I decided to do "just a little bit" of work before my son gets up and we spend the day relaxing (and perhaps eating too much).
I'm lucky that I feel no pressure from work to be producing now. In fact, my bosses have actually encouraged me to disconnect, but that's something I (along with many others) struggle with. There are, however, important reasons you should take an actual vacation.
1. Time off is good for you.
"We know that taking a break is extremely good for one's mental health," Susan Krauss Whitbourne, an adjunct professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, told Time. "It puts you in a different frame of mind, gets you out of your standard patterns and can give you time with family."
In fact, a survey of 414 travelers showed that not only taking time off but going somewhere had major benefits. Nearly everyone surveyed (94%) said they had "as much or more energy after coming back after a good trip," and 55% said they returned to work with "higher levels of energy."
2. You need to learn humility.
There's a small part of me that truly believes that the world will be very slightly better off if I finish this article. In reality, I'm one writer at a company that has dozens of them, in a field that has thousands. I like to think that my contributions are unique, but it's important to gain the perspective that the world still turns if I take a few days off to cruise to Mexico.
3. Perspective matters.
Whether you write for a living, work in retail, drive a truck, teach, or do anything else, it's helpful to see the world through the lens of other people. The more you experience, the more you're able to empathize with people from different walks of life.
Maybe I'll be a little calmer when handling a work crisis because I see how many hoops the cruise ship personnel go through to keep people happy. Perhaps I'll learn something from meeting people in Mexico whose lives are different than my own. It's hard to know to know how growth will manifest, but everyone can benefit from expanding their horizons.
And you don't have to travel to see the world in a different way. Go to the movies or sit in a coffee shop when you would have been at work. Visit the mall or the library, and you might be surprised at what you see if you're open to it.
Relax. No, really -- relax!
It's a little after 8 a.m. as I type this, and there's a mostly finished latte in front of me. I'm clearly not good at taking my own advice, but once I write these last few sentences, I'm going to try to actually let myself be on vacation.
Yes, I'll probably look at my email and answer any requests on Slack, but I'll do so at my own pace and perhaps with a drink in hand. That's not entirely being off, but it's a step closer to doing the right thing and letting myself fully relax so I can return next week more ready to work than when I left.