Why not take some time off?

Why not take some time off? July 18, 2014

So, I read this article over a year ago and I still haven’t been able to forget it.  In today’s blogosphere, that almost counts as a classic….so I decided it was worth sharing with you all.

It’s an opinion piece by tax lawyer Kelly Phillips Erb, and she begins by musing:

In my first real job as an attorney, I made a huge mistake: I assumed I would have some time off. I had so much faith, in fact, that I made arrangements to fly home to visit my parents on Christmas Eve. But our office didn’t close on Christmas Eve. And people in my office didn’t take time off. Ever. That year, I took one day off for vacation for the whole year. One day.

The next year, I was bold: I asked for a whole week off. My boss wasn’t thrilled but he relented. And since I had work to do, I had to call in to the office every day but, officially, I was on vacation.

In my first two years as a lawyer, I had taken six days of vacation. And I worked five out of six.

Kelly was, and is, not alone:

I realize that doesn’t make me special. As a rule, Americans don’t take vacation. According to a story on Marketplace, most Americans left about nine days of vacation time on the table in 2012. That same report cited a study from Hotwire which found that a whopping 87% of Americans would take more vacation trips if they felt they had the time and the money to do so.

Even when Americans have vacation time, they are scared to take it – often because they are afraid their bosses will think they’re lazy or that they could lose their jobs while on vacation. Employees and employers would both do well to change that: a lack of vacation cost employers in the long run. Employers who discourage vacations end up with stressed, unhappy employees. They also end up with unhealthy employees: not taking vacation has been found to correspond to increased chance of heart disease for both men and women. The cost of stress-related health care is estimated at $344 billion a year.

The silly thing is that the fix is incredibly simple: offer employees vacation time and encourage them to take it. There are few things that you can do that result in as much positive benefit and cost so little.

She goes on to explain how this has worked out for specific employers, with several interesting examples:

USAA, where employees can buy – and sell time off – has noted that more than three times more employees buy time off as sell it. Jeff Weiss, senior vice president of benefits at USAA, encourages those arrangements, saying:

We think time off is actually critical to productivity. When people take their time off to refresh and renew, we believe they service the members more effectively.

I agree. Happier employees are better employees. Whether you are an employer or an employee, don’t underestimate the value of vacation. And the tax consequences of most vacation plans are minimal – or non-existent. Employers should offer more time off – and employees should actually take it when it’s offered. Say it with me: Vacation is good.

And I noted that when I went back to her blog to find the piece again, she’s still reminding us of the benefits of vacation, beginning a more recent piece reminding folks to figure taxes and fees into the cost of their vacation with this thought:

I took a real vacation this year. That in itself is pretty amazing since most Americans don’t take real vacations. Despite evidence that indicates that vacations lend themselves to happier, healthier employees, we’re still hesitant to leave our desks behind: most of us used only half of our eligible vacation time last year. Reasons include fear of getting left behind and a little bit of cockiness: we don’t think anyone else can do what we do. An incredible seventeen percent of Americans didn’t use their vacation time because they were afraid of getting fired.

Whether you are an employer or employee, there are profound implications here that have to do with Christian ideas of sabbath and rest.  Not only is vacation a good idea because it will bring you back to your desk more refreshed and more productive, but vacation is a good idea because God commanded us to rest as part of fulfilling the vision of who we were meant to be.

PS. If you’re the numbers/facts/infographic type, here is another article on how little we as a nation use our vacation time  (and here’s yet another.)

Image: “Vacation” by Monika, used under a Creative Commons license.

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