Kill Your Vacation Guilt!

If you’re like many Americans, you forfeited about 50% of your eligible vacation time last year.

“Vacation guilt” seems to be indigenous to the US where employees freely walk away from $66.4 billion in benefits (about $604 for the average worker). What’s worse – we have a lower vacation bank to begin with compared to many European and South American countries (15 days on average in the US compared to 30 days in countries like Spain and Brazil). So while our global colleagues are enjoying every drop of their hard-earned six weeks of R&R, we barely manage to take one week. Let that sink in.

If you took time off over the holidays, you know the positive benefits that come with disengaging, sleeping in, reading for pleasure, and spending extra time with friends and family. Research supports this, reporting that vacations reduce stress, decrease heart disease and even increase productivity when you return to the office.

But, the research also shows you need to completely unplug to reap the benefits, which most don’t do: 65% of American vacationers report working while on holiday, with 44% checking email daily and 10% checking hourly.

While the clock has run out for 2017, here’s how to kill your vacation guilt in 2018:

  1. Get over what others think. If you’re worried about how you’ll be perceived by your boss, clients or co-workers, you need to have some honest conversations. If you believe your team can’t function without you, maybe it’s a sign you’re micromanaging and it’s time to step back. It’s easy to convince ourselves we “have to” do something (read this), when in the end, we’re usually just dodging reality or a difficult discussion.
  2. Engage a solid Out Of Office (OOO) strategy. It’s a common complaint that taking time off isn’t worth returning to a mountain of emails. Fix it! Extend your OOO message a day or two beyond your vacation so you have catch up time. Also, delete your work email from your smartphone while away so you’re not tempted to peak at incoming messages (after two days, you won’t miss it!). My favorite strategy is to create a new OOO upon return that says, “Thanks for your patience – I’m back in the office and expect to respond by Thursday. If your need is urgent, pls call me at…“  
  3. Take mental health days. While research has found that the magic amount of time needed before you begin to unplug is four days, eight hours and 24 minutes, taking a mental health day occasionally can also work wonders. You (or your child) don’t need to be physically ill to play hookey and rejuvenate. A day at the park, salon or curled up watching Netflix can be just the break you need.
  4. Count your blessings. Millions of Americans still don’t earn vacation time, so it’s a benefit worth appreciating and using.

The American culture of “vacation guilt” means that employees are essentially volunteering (which is a good thing, but not at your job!). Worse, squandered vacation will be a source of regret in the long-run. You wouldn’t freely allow Payroll to deduct $604 from your check, so why allow it with your time, the only resource you can never earn back?

Happy hunting!

*Sources: Glassdoor; the U.S. Travel Association; the American Psychological Association;

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