It was a few decades ago that McDonalds dubbed the marketing slogan “You deserve a break today.” In their case, they were referring to a lunch break. However, their message touched on a fundamental truth. Every person occasionally needs a break and not just for meals. We each need a real break from the stresses of work to rejuvenate and restore. In Europe, it is called ‘holiday.’ In the U.S., we call it a ‘vacation.’
Indeed, many companies in the U.S. know and understand the benefits of vacation time. Most give full-time employees at least a week or two of paid annual leave plus paid holidays. This is true even though the U.S. is one of the few industrialized countries in which paid vacation and holidays are not mandated by the federal government. The chart below reflects the number of paid annual leave days and paid holidays mandated by the federal government of 21 industrialized nations as of 2010.
Despite the U.S.’s pro-business policies, smart entrepreneurs and managers understand that there is an intrinsic value in giving employees time to recharge their internal battery. In fact, at some firms, employees are required to take annual leave and are not allowed to accrue the time or be paid for it rather than use it. This is done to ensure that the employees take time off every year. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers tracks employees who have not taken enough vacation, sending reminders to them and their supervisors that they should do so. Full-time employees at Intel Corp. receive two consecutive months of paid time off after seven years of work. They can even stack the sabbaticals on top of their regular vacation.
Why do smart employers care if employees take time off? It’s a matter of numbers. Research indicates that there are important benefits from taking time away from the normal routine. Vacations are not a luxury, but an important part of any healthy lifestyle. There is a conclusive body of research that points to hectic, work-life balance issues (particularly in the U.S.) as a leading contributor to illness and the breakdown of family life.
The Impact of Vacations
- A poll of 1,000 representative Americans, conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation in 2008, found that 29% of American workers took no paid vacation time, another 24% took a week off or less, and 30% used less than half their allotted time. Among so-called extreme jobholders (high-level professionals), 42% regularly canceled vacation plans.
- Americans regularly take even less vacation than the Japanese, the people who gave rise to karoshi— occupational sudden death—the phenomenon of being worked to death. The major medical causes of karoshi deaths, which were first detected in the early 1970s, were heart attack and stroke due to stress.
- In 1980, people in only 10 other countries lived longer than people in the U.S. Now, people in more than 40 countries live longer than people in the U.S.
- Europeans work about 300 hours less and get twice as much paid leave, on average annually, than Americans. This allows more time to exercise, eat slowly, eat healthily, sleep longer and socialize with friends and family. These activities do wonders for their health. That may explain why Europeans are half as likely to suffer from chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes after the age of 50 as Americans. That also explains why they pay a little over half as much for health care as do Americans.
- Men who take regular vacations are 32% less likely to die of heart attacks than those who don’t. A State University of New York survey also found that men who took annual vacations reduced their overall risk of death by 20 percent. Men who didn’t take any vacations in five years had the highest death rate and incidence of heart disease than any other men surveyed.
- The Framingham Heart Study found that women who don’t take vacations are up to eight times more likely to suffer from heart disease than women who take two vacation breaks a year.
- Another study by the Wisconsin Medical Journal showed that women who don’t take vacations are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression as those who do. Women who rarely take vacations are more likely to have stress at home and sleep less.
- An Air New Zealand study conducted by NASA found that after taking a vacation, workers’ reaction times were 30-40% faster. Those gains lasted for months. Vacationers also experienced an 82% increase in job performance post-trip. However, the now-popular micro-vacations—taking two or three days off—did not deliver the same stress-reduction benefits as vacations that last one and two weeks. The key ingredient to peak performance was shutting down for extended periods of time.
- One study found that three days after vacation, subjects’ physical complaints, quality of sleep and mood improved as compared to before vacation. These gains were still present five weeks later, especially in those who had more personal time and overall satisfaction during their vacations.
- A study by the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services found that women who took vacations were more satisfied with their marriages.
- Experts like William Doherty, Professor of Family Therapy at the University of Minnesota, say vacations are a primary source of bonding, and among the best family experiences most likely to be remembered by children.
Summary: Reasons to take a Vacation
1. Vacations make people healthier, increasing longevity and reducing the overall cost of health insurance.
2. Vacations make people more productive.
3. Vacations help reduce workplace stress and burnout dramatically. Most people live on a schedule: same restaurants; same people; same environment; same activities. Monotony obstructs inspiration and creativity. A foreign environment–out of the comfort zone—allows the brain to think differently.
4. Vacations help families bond, reducing the divorce rate, the high school drop-out rate, and the rate of children getting into trouble with the law.
Regular vacation breaks keep people well and enjoying life. Vacations matter for health, family, the environment and even productivity. Next week, we’ll look at how to do vacations ‘the right way.’ Don’t miss it…. unless you are on vacation.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Year by year we are learning that in this restless, strenuous American life of ours, vacations are essential.”
© 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.