Ready for Vacation?

Mark L. Johnson / July 2016

Many Americans enjoy taking some time off during the summer. Are you planning a short reprieve from work? If not now, then maybe later this year?
    
Of course, summertime is also construction time, and you may not be able to pull away from your projects in July and August. But doing so at some point is critical. You’ll feel better—and you’ll help the economy.

Good for the Soul, Good for GDP
It’s interesting how many workers say they need a vacation, but then leave paid vacation days on the table. According to one estimate, only 51 percent of paid vacation time gets used. One study found that in 2013 U.S. employees used only 84 percent of their earned time off. Sadly, one in four Americans (23 percent) do not have any paid vacation benefits or paid holiday time-off.
    
Is this situation really so bad? Yes. The effect of working all the time is crushing.
    
A study of 16,426 workers in Norway, published in PLOS ONE this May, found a “positive and significant” correlation between workaholism and psychiatric disorder symptoms, including ADHD, OCD, anxiety and depression. That’s not to say that going without a vacation will make you anxious or depressed. But, anxiety and depression can be signals that suggest you should force-feed yourself a vacation, since you may be a personality type that tends not to take time off.
    
Really, unrelieved stress takes its toll on the workplace. Overly stressed workers are more likely to become ill. They are, Psychology Today says, more likely to have an accident. “Mentally, not only do you become more irritable, depressed and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you’ll make poorer decisions,” the magazine says.
    
There is the related problem today of being interrupted all the time. Our gadgets and apps tend to tether us to work and our social media networks. They make it hard to uncouple from the job in order to relax. A University of British Columbia study found a connection between device notifications and an increase in hyperactivity. And, that social media app that pings you all the time lowers your attentiveness.
    
So serious is the lack of R&R that one Canadian researcher, Scott McCabe, even suggests that families who cannot afford to take vacations should be given financial assistance from the government to get away.
    
Economically speaking, this is smart. U.S. employees with paid time off left an average of 3.2 days on the table in 2013, according to Project Time Off. If used for travel, the unused vacation time would convert to 580 million additional travel days and $67 billion in additional travel spending. “The total economic impact of this additional spending, including indirect effects,” Project Time Off says, “would be 1.2 million U.S. jobs and $52 billion in additional income earned.” Yeah, drywallers could build more vacation resorts with some of that money.

Break into the Stress Cycle
The United States is behind other nations at getting the point. It’s the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacations. Most European countries mandate 20 days of paid vacation each year—France requires 30 days. Australia and New Zealand both require employers to grant 20 vacation days per year. Canada and Japan each require 10 paid days off, according to “No-Vacation Nation Revisited” from The Center for Economic and Policy Research.
    
As an industry, let’s be different.
    
“Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle,” Psychology Today says. “We emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again.”

Are you planning to work through another holiday? Don’t. Take some time off. It will be good for you, good for the economy and, I think, good for our industry.

Mark L. Johnson is an industry writer who has taken his MacBook Air to the beach to work, but no more. He tweets at @markjohnsoncomm and connects at linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.