Monday Mornings with Madison

To Amp Up Productivity, Creativity and Career Success, Go on Vacation

Word Count:  1,368 

Estimated Read Time:  5 ½ min.

Attention workaholics, movers and shakers, corporate climbers and rising stars!  Want to increase your productivity?  Have a desire to get your creative juices really flowing?  Hustling to shift your career into hyper-drive?  If you answered yes to any or all three of these questions, then there is one simple thing you can do that will help with all.  Stop working and go on vacation.  As counter-intuitive as that may sound, a vacation is the best way to increase output, inspire the imagination into high gear and achieve even greater career success.  If this sounds like millennial HR hype, it’s not.  Vacations are essential for long-term success.

Yet, even as the summer winds down and kids head back to school, many employees have not yet taken any vacation time this year.  And, those who have taken vacation time still have more vacation time available that they haven’t used and won’t use.  Some think this is a good thing and even take pride in going years without a real vacation.  (Long weekends don’t count.)  While many Americans take pride in their workaholic ways, this is not a uniquely American phenomenon.  Nor is it a by-product of the Great Recession… the lingering fear that jobs might disappear tomorrow.  But regardless of the reason, forgoing vacations is not a good thing.  Companies that want to increase their output should track employee vacation time consumption and consider requiring all employees to use ALL of their vacation time annually.  And professionals who want to up their game need to seriously invest in “down time”. Here’s why.

Anti-Vacation Sentiment

Who doesn’t want to take a paid vacation, if given the chance?  Americans, for one.  But they aren’t alone.  The Chinese don’t either.  Most Americans don’t take even half of their vacation time annually.   According to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive of 2,300 U.S. employees who receive paid vacation time, only about half used their paid vacation time and 40% leave some unused vacation time on the table every year.  Even worse, 61% of Americans work while they are on vacation, 25% report being contacted by a coworker on a work-related issue while on holiday and 20% have even been contacted by their boss while on leave.

As bad as that sounds, the Chinese have an even less friendly attitude regarding vacation time.  Over 86% of Chinese workers haven’t taken a vacation in three years.  What’s really sad is that while the law does not mandate any paid vacation, 91% of U.S. employees get paid vacation and workers in China are entitled to paid annual leave after they’ve been employed continuously for one year with a company.  So while most American workers and all Chinese workers are entitled to paid leave, almost none use it.

Why is that?  What’s not to love about a vacation?  What people do on their vacations may vary widely, but all vacations share one thing in common.  A vacation allows a person to “vacate” their life.  A vacation is about disconnecting from the everyday grind and recharging the internal battery.   More essentially, it is about recognizing and embracing that there is more to life than work.  While most people need to work in order to earn enough to live, every person (and certainly every person in the industrialized world) should have “a life” beyond work.   So why do so many people feel compelled to throw away vacation time?

There are a multitude of reasons why Americans (and probably why the Chinese also) don’t take some or all of their vacation time.  A 2016 study by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications found that 33% of Americans said they simply could not financially afford to take vacation time.   What they earn is enough to survive, but not enough to afford the additional expenses of travel.  Also, 40% said they were afraid of returning to a ton of work after a vacation, with another 35% saying they felt no one else could do their job.   Many are also fearful that if they take vacation time, they will be replaced with someone more hard-working or more qualified.  There are other reasons as well.  As much as 67% of U.S. employees report that their employer says nothing about the need to take vacation days or discourages using them and 33% of top business leaders claim to never or rarely speak with employees about the benefits of taking vacation time.  And, ultimately, many corporate-ladder-climbing employees wear this “anti-vacation attitude” as a badge of honor, believing it showcases an above-and-beyond commitment to the job.

In reality, though, routinely skipping vacations actually drives down productivity and creativity.  The human mind needs a change in scenery and a break from routine in order to create new neural pathways.  Stimulating activities.  Distinct surroundings.  New languages.  Different architecture.  Varying climates.  Unique flora and fauna.  Fresh landscapes.   Diverse cuisine.  Assorted instruments and music.  All of these sights, sounds and flavors don’t just fire up the senses but jolts the parts of the brain where imagination, inspiration and innovation arise.  Vacations are for a person’s creativity what fertilizer is to grass… it provides the rich nutrients needed for robust growth.

Again, if this sounds like a lot of humanistic hogwash, consider this.  Experts at the University of Pittsburgh found that people return more energized and positive after a vacation.  Creativity also increased after a vacation.  And a recent study showed that time off also increased personal happiness.  The wild anticipation and excitement generated by the vacation is sustained afterward… for a while.  That means taking three separate one-week vacations a year is much better than one three-week vacation a year.   But taking little mini-vacations of a day or two plus a weekend doesn’t have the same effect.  That’s because it takes almost a week for the vacation effect to take hold.

And, if the workaholics, movers and shakers, corporate climbers and rising stars aren’t convinced that their careers will thrive more if they take an annual vacation, then consider that only the living get promotions.  To be upwardly mobile on the career ladder, you must first be alive.  So, if for no other reason, vacations are essential to longevity, which is a precursor to success.  Vacations have been found to:

  1. Improve Sleep – Vacations help interrupt the mental noise that work creates, which causes sleeplessness and leads to memory impairment, lack of focus and sluggishness.
  2. Reduce Stress - A study of 900 attorneys found that taking vacations helped alleviate job stress, with the effect lasting well beyond the duration of the vacation.  A similar study found that after taking vacation time, those individuals had fewer stress-related physical complaints such as headaches, backaches, and heart irregularities, and they still felt better five weeks after the vacation.
  3. Increase Heart Health – Numerous studies have shown that vacations are an excellent prescription to prevent heart disease and skipping vacations had the opposite effect.  One study found that men at risk for heart disease who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were 30% more likely to have a heart attack than those who took one week of vacation each year!  Just missing a vacation one single year was associated with a higher risk of heart disease.  And a study by the State University of New York at Oswego of 12,000 men found that the rate of dying soon increased by 21% in those who did not take any annual vacations.  Similar health problems were found for women who don’t vacation.  Women who took a vacation once every six years or less frequently were 800% more likely to develop heart disease, have a heart attack or die of a coronary-related problem.

Certainly, no one would argue that a person who is less stressed, sleeps better and is in good cardiovascular health is more likely to think more clearly and have more stamina and energy to get things done at work.  So vacations are good for work success, health and longevity.  Those are all great reasons to close this post and start planning that next vacation…. unless you just got back from one.  In which case, tune in next week to look at how to get back into the groove after a nice vacation.

Quote of the Week

“The breaks you take from work pay you back manifold when you return because you come back with a fresher mind and newer thinking. Some of your best ideas come when you’re on vacation.” Gautam Singhania


© 2017, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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