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Getting away from it all

5 steps that will help you take the vacation you’ve earned

Let’s face it, feeling burnt out, beat down and an all-around slave to your job is no way to live. Chances are that when you hired on, your company offered paid vacation days as part of your benefits package. If you or your family have noticed you’re turning into a work martyr, it’s time to take a break. 

It’s possible that the most difficult part of taking a vacation is actually taking the time to schedule and plan it. Could it be that many Americans just don’t like leaving their work life behind? Yes, say the experts. According to Katie Denis, senior program director for Project: Time Off, a travel industry-funded organization that researches vacation habits, some of the reasons that many American workers leave unused vacation include a fear of returning to a mountain of work; they don’t want to be seen as replaceable; no one else can do their job; and some workers simply can’t afford to take time off. 

“When it comes to taking time off, Americans are their own biggest barriers,” says Denis. 

Rethinking time off

Between 1976 and 2000, American workers used an average of 20.3 days of vacation each year. But starting in 2000, that number began dropping precipitously. A 2014 study conducted by Oxford Economics on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics vacation usage data states that American workers average 16.0 days of vacation and leave 4.9 unused vacation days on the table each year—almost an entire week. Denis says, “We call it America’s Lost Week and it’s only going to get worse if we don’t make a change.”

And, on the other side of the coin, a study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management states, “fully utilizing vacation leave drives higher employee performance and productivity, boosts organizational morale, contributes to employee wellness and results in higher employee retention.”

So, if you’re one of those workaholic types, you may want to vacate your normal routine, and take advantage of one of the most important employee benefits you have. Here are five tips about how to get out of the office and into a refreshed state of mind. 

1. Put it in the book 

The first hurdle of vacation is in actually scheduling it. Check your project list and figure out how much time you need to finish existing projects, plus or minus a week or two, and then request the time off. This takes some advance planning, but it’s worth the effort and ease of mind, knowing that you have timed your vacation advantageously for your employer and yourself. There, now you’ve cleared the first hurdle. 

2. Take small steps

If you’re just not the vacation type, try taking a day or two off at a time. Add a Friday or Monday to your weekend. Or, if you’re not worried about taking the time off but simply don’t care for the travel aspect of a vacation, plan a staycation. You can sleep until 10, and stay in your pajamas all day while you binge-watch House of Cards.

3. Learn to delegate

No employee is indispensable, and the sooner you figure this out, the better. Issues will come up while you’re away—they always do—so you need to find someone who is able to handle a crisis in your absence. Create an automatic “Out of Office” message that includes the contact information for your backup while you’re out.

4. Disconnect

We’re all addicted to technology in one form or another, but turning it off and tuning into the present moment can bring rich rewards. Unplugging offers the chance to ditch distractions and turn our full attention to fun with our families and friends. Watch an amazing sunset, listen to the surf, hike among tall pines, savor new cuisine, ski down a powdery slope, take your kids to a national park, kayak a lazy river, visit a museum, read a book or simply stroll along a city street. 

5. Reap the benefits

According to Project: Time Off, using vacation days improves Americans’ personal lives through strengthening family ties and offering health benefits; and it’s a wise business decision that improves productivity and morale in the workplace. Additionally, taking a vacation helps the country by giving the U.S. economy a $160 billion boost.  

In the end, what matters is that you take time off to enjoy your life outside of work. 

"Vacation policies are they diets—they all work, but you have to follow them. It doesn’t really matter what you do, it’s that you do something."
– Katie Denis, Senior Program Director for Project: Time Off