When’s the last time you took a true vacation from work?
That means no checking emails on your phone while you wait for your waffles to be served at brunch. No 20-minute work sessions while your partner is in the shower. No answering phone calls poolside in order to deal with emergencies.
Are you struggling to think of an example of when you took some time off—without stuffing your metaphorical professional baggage into the overhead bins?
You aren’t alone. We’re all notoriously bad at disconnecting. According to a study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Psychological Association, 44% of people report checking their work messages at least once a day while on vacation.
But, not only are we terrible at unplugging, we’re also bad at taking vacations at all—particularly in the United States. A Glassdoor study stated that the average American worker has only taken about half of their eligible paid vacation time in the last 12 months. It’s about time you give yourself a break, and here are a few reasons why.
Vacations are Great—But Do They Actually Matter?
Those statistics offer a pretty rude awakening, but still—big deal, right?
Sure, maybe your obsessive email checking while on a fan boat ride through the Everglades annoys your family a little bit. Or, maybe you don’t feel quite as relaxed as you could if you’d just unglue your phone from your hand.
But that’s not the end of the world, is it?
Turns out, when you sacrifice your precious relaxation time in order to stay in tune with your work life, you’re passing up on some pretty compelling vacation benefits.
1. Become Even Better at Your Job
One of the main reasons that people leave unused vacation days on the table is that they’re worried they’ll be viewed as slackers and fall behind. They’ll be passed over for promotions and stay stuck on the bottom rung of the proverbial ladder.
According to the 2017 State of the American Vacation report from Project: Time Off, 26% of respondents fear that a vacation makes them appear less dedicated at work. Even further, 23% say they don’t want to be seen as replaceable during their absence.
It’s easy to think that more time spent in the office automatically equates to being more effective at your job, but science has actually found the opposite to be true.
A study titled “Psychological Detachment From Work During Leisure Time: The Benefits of Mentally Disengaging From Work” identified positive relations between detachment from work and job performance—among other benefits.
This study compiled research from numerous other sources. One of these cited sources conducted a study where they did weekly surveys of employees for four weeks. The study “revealed that when employees detached from their job during the weekend, they felt more refreshed at the beginning of the next workweek and showed more proactive work behavior throughout the week.”
Need further proof? A different study from Project: Time Off found that employees who took 10 days or less of vacation are less likely to receive a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who took 11 days or more.
2. Reduce Your Stress
One of your goals of taking time off is likely to knock your stress levels down a notch, and vacations certainly accomplish that.
A small German study looked at middle managers in particular. The participants were split into two groups: the intervention group, who spent a four-day vacation in a hotel away from their normal environment, and the control group, who spent those same four days at home.
Both groups experienced “large, positive, and immediate effects on perceived stress, recovery, strain, and well-being.” Even more interesting? The group who stayed in a hotel had stress levels that decreased to an even greater extent.
So, vacations reduce stress. That’s obvious enough, right? But, consider this: You don’t just reap the benefits when you’re actively burying your toes in the sand. Even the act of planning a vacation can make you feel more at ease.
A 2010 study published in Applied Research in Quality of Life concluded that planning a trip or a getaway boosted participants’ happiness—something the study called pre-trip happiness. This is likely because vacationers were looking forward to their time away.
So next time you’re on your lunch break, start dreaming and planning that next vacation!
3. Expand Your Creativity
There’s one somewhat unexpected benefit of heading out on a vacation: improved creativity.
In this study, Dutch researchers conducted creativity tests (a frequently-used test known as the Alternative Uses Test) on workers. These tests were conducted two weeks before vacations, and then again one week after.
During the test, participants were presented with an object and told to come up with as many uses for it as possible. Participants who generate a high number of uses have greater cognitive flexibility, while a high number of seemingly unconventional uses represents a greater level of originality.
While their originality didn’t change following their vacations, workers did show a much higher degree of flexibility.
Additionally, the lower level of stress a vacation inspires relates to a more positive outlook. A study from the University of Western Ontario published in Psychological Science, found a direct link between a positive mood and enhanced creative problem solving.
Finally, travel itself makes you more creative. Researchers have found a distinct correlation between time spent abroad and creative output. A step away from the office and into the great outdoors will do you some good to clear your mind and get those creative juices flowing.
Preparing for Takeoff: How To Leave For Vacation #LikeABoss
You get it. A vacation can positively impact you in many ways. However, it’s important to note that not just any vacation will accomplish the above things for you.
One that’s filled with constant notifications, email refreshing, and obsessing over work problems won’t leave you feeling relaxed and recharged. In fact, it can actually have the opposite effect.
“Poorly planned and stressful vacations eliminate the positive benefit of time away,” says New York Times bestselling author, Shawn Achor, in an article for Harvard Business Review.
So, how can you make the most of your time off and experience all of those positive results? Be confident about your choice, and be the boss of your getaway plan.
Here’s a pre-vacation checklist to run through to ensure you’re setting yourself up for success—and plenty of undisturbed relaxation.
1. Manage Expectations (Early and Often)
If you’ve previously spent your vacations being tuned in and on top of work-related matters, you’ve set the precedent that you’re always responsive. It’s going to take some conscious effort to get your colleagues and your manager used to the idea that you plan to be totally unplugged.
Start letting people know about your upcoming time off several weeks ahead of your vacation—and make it explicitly clear that you’ll be completely out of touch. Provide frequent reminders in the following weeks so that you avoid blindsiding anyone.
The day before you sign off and leave, send one final wrap-up email that ties up any loose ends for your team. It doesn’t need to be overly complex, but should address any pending items and reiterate that you’ll be out of touch. Here’s an example of what this can look like:
I’m about to sign off for my vacation. As a reminder, I’m unplugging and will be totally out of touch until I return to my normal work schedule on Monday, November 26.
I’ve wrapped up the following items ahead of my departure:
- Finalized the slides for next week’s presentation to the board
- Finished my assigned portion of the monthly summary
- Submitted my sales numbers for inclusion in the quarterly report
Everything should be in a good place at this point. But, if anything urgent comes up while I’m away, Allyson has agreed to step in.
Please reach out to her, as I won’t be checking my emails.
Thank you, and I’ll see you when I’m back!
2. Set Your Out-of-Office Autoresponder
Oh, the beauty of the out-of-office autoresponder. Not only does it serve as a constant reminder to other people that you aren’t actively working, but it also gives you some much-needed peace of mind.
Nothing removes that innate sense of urgency that email inspires like knowing that people are actually aware of the fact that you’re away from the office and not staring at your inbox all day.
So, setting an out-of-office message for yourself definitely deserves a spot on your pre-vacation to-do list. Make sure that your response touches on the basics like:
- When you’ll return
- Who people can contact with urgent matters
If you plan to be totally detached from email, it’s also wise to include a line mentioning that you aren’t checking in. That way people aren’t holding out hope that you’ll get back to them while you’re still away.
3. Turn Off Your Notifications
You set off on your vacation with the best of intentions. But, I’m willing to bet it only takes one ping of a push notification before the siren song of your work life is too strong to resist.
When a 2016 Deloitte study found that people look at their phones an average of 47 times per day (that number skyrockets to 82 times for young people!), the last thing you need is a reminder of your bad, screen-addicted habit. Turning off your notifications removes a lot of temptation.
You can even take this a step further and delete any tempting apps from your phone. Whether you don’t want to be bogged down by social media, or think you’ll be better off removing your email from your phone altogether, use whatever technical tricks you need to commit yourself to some true time away.
4. Update Your Calendar
If your team has access to your calendar, you should also mark the days that you’re out of the office.
Not only is this another way to effectively manage expectations (you can never have too many reminders that you’re away!), but it also helps ensure that nobody’s trying to assign deadlines or schedule meetings during a time when you actually aren’t there.
Kick this calendar reminder up a notch by using it as another place where you clearly state that you’re disconnected from all work matters.
Subtle? Not so much. Helpful? Definitely.
5. Tie Up Loose Ends
Even if you love your job, you’re probably familiar with that pit that sinks into your stomach in the last day or two of your vacation.
You’re dreading heading back to a lengthy to-do list, a crammed inbox, and the realities of your day-to-day life. For some people, that feeling of dread is so strong that it actually sabotages the end of their time off.
Listen, reality is never going to be as much fun as vacation. But, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for a smooth transition back into your work life.
One of the best things you can do is tie up any loose ends and straighten things up before you depart. Even just the quick task of cleaning up your desk or jotting down a list of priorities for when you return can help you feel a little less frazzled and overwhelmed when you’re back.
If possible, also schedule in a buffer day—a day between when you return from your trip and when you head back to work.
That brief time will allow you to catch up on things like laundry, grocery shopping, and your unopened mail—before you dive right back into your work responsibilities. It’s a small trick that can make a big difference.
You’ve Earned A Real Vacation
It seems sort of counterintuitive, but leaving for vacation involves a lot of work.
Not only do you actually have to plan your trip, but there’s seemingly endless preparation involved in leaving your professional responsibilities behind.
Here’s the thing, though: It’s well worth the effort. Truly disconnecting for even just a few days of uninterrupted relaxation can improve your job performance, boost your creativity, and reduce your stress.
So, use this as your guide to prepare yourself (and your co-workers) for your time spent disconnected from work. Doing so means you’ll return to your normal routine feeling recharged—rather than resentful.