With flowers blooming and Spring in the air, everyone’s thoughts are turning to the summer vacation season. Well, maybe not this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has, unfortunately, put all kinds of vacation plans on hold for the time being.
Depending on your circumstances, your spring break travel plans were probably upended, too. Between a canceled spring break and likely canceled summer plans, you’re probably saving all your vacation days for Thanksgiving or holiday break.
That may be a mistake, though. Even if you can’t travel right now, you should take a day or two off from work to mentally recharge. If that sounds like crazy talk, it’s not. Some work-free days are exactly the thing you and your employer need right now.
You Need a Day Off and Here’s Why
Even before the pandemic, taking a vacation was rare. The BLS notes that in 2017, 76% of all employees in the private sector had access to some paid vacation. After one year of employment, employees had, on average, 10 paid vacation days. By five years of employment, the average was 15 paid vacation days.
However, that same year, a Glassdoor poll found that only half of employees (54%) had used any of their paid vacation time in the previous 12 months. And of those employees who had paid vacation, 23% of them only took 25% or less of their total eligible vacation time off–meaning they didn’t use up to 75% of their vacation time.
But why don’t people use their vacation time?
In one survey, nearly one-third of employees say it’s almost impossible to take a vacation because they have too much work to do. Approximately 25% of employees say they don’t want to take a vacation because they worry about missing important information or opportunities. Finally, one out of every five employees feels guilty when they do take a vacation and are worried that they will be viewed as less committed to their jobs.
Of course, during the pandemic, millions of U.S. employees have lost their jobs, and with a looming recession, many more may lose their jobs. Taking even half a day off may seem like an unwise–even foolish–move right now. People may think the only “right” choice is to prioritize work above everything else.
While it’s hardly foolish to want to hang on to your job right now, in many states, people have been working at home for approximately eight weeks. Between the scary news stories, the uncertainty of the pandemic, worrying about loved ones, suddenly becoming a teacher, and learning how to work at home, you’ve probably been working far more than you realized. And, without realizing it, you may be exhausted.
The Benefits of a Day Off
In normal times, you should take all of your vacation days. For starters, it’s part of your benefits. And when you don’t take all of your paid time off, you’re essentially giving your employer “free work.”
Put another way: you’re leaving money on the table.
During the pandemic, you’ve probably been working a lot more than you realize. For example, Nord VPN, a private network service provider, is tracking internet usage during the pandemic and has found that employees are working three hours longer now than they used to.
And many employees admit that they are working longer hours than usual because they don’t know how to separate work from home. And, of course, some feel they need to work more to save their jobs.
But taking a vacation (even now), can make you a better employee and improve your mental and physical health. These can improve your work performance.
Studies have shown that:
- Vacations improve your health: People that work more than 55 hours per week are 33% more likely to have a stroke and 13% more likely to have a heart attack.
- You’re more productive: Working more than 48 hours a week makes you less productive.
- They reduce stress: When you take a vacation, your brain recovers from work-related stress. If you never take a vacation, your brain never gets a chance to recover. Over time, this makes it harder to relax at the end of the workday. Even a single day off (24 hours) gives our brains a chance to rest and rejuvenate.
- You might live longer: A 40-year study found that people who regularly took a vacation lived longer than those who did not.
How to Ask For a Pandemic Vacation Day (or Two)
Unless your employer placed limits on your vacation time, don’t be afraid to ask for a day or two off. Explain why you need a vacation day. Maybe you need to help out a child who isn’t doing well with distance learning. Or you need to check up on a loved one. If all you really need is some “me time,” don’t be afraid to say that either.
Explain that you need some time to disconnect from work and to recharge. Given that these are unprecedented times, your boss will probably understand and grant your request. If for some reason you get pushback, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it to pursue those days off.
And if you decide to drop the matter, give yourself the time on weekends to unplug from work and decompress. Just make sure you truly disconnect from work (and we’ve got tips below on how to do that!).
Come Up with a Plan
Obviously, your pandemic vacation probably won’t involve traveling the sites and soaking up the local flavors. And even your typical staycation of playing tourist in town is probably out of the question. But doesn’t mean you have to spend all day sitting around the house twiddling your thumbs in boredom. Though limited, you still have options.
If you’re the active type, start by making plans to check off some of the items on your “honey-do” list–those things you just never have the time for. But, if you don’t have anything on your list (or they are impractical right now), come up with other ways to spend your time.
Maybe you can spring clean the house from top to bottom or organize the family photo albums. You could even give your home office a much-needed makeover. Don’t feel like being productive? Cool. Spend some quality time with the kids, the pets, or your loved ones you’ve been self-isolating with.
Take a long walk around the neighborhood. If you’ve been cooking every single meal, change it up to support a local restaurant by ordering take out for every meal. Or, if you’ve been ordering in a lot, cook a few meals for a change of pace.
And if your idea of recharging is sitting on the couch all day binge-watching Netflix, go for it! It’s your vacation day to spend any way you want!
While it’s often easier said than done, on your day off from work, don’t work!
In 2018, one poll found that nearly 56% of all workers check in with work during their vacations. And another survey from that same year found that one in three U.S. employees expect to work while on vacation.
While the work is “easy,” like forwarding urgent emails or taking brief calls, the fact is that any and every time someone works during their vacation, they are no longer on vacation. Whether you are a boss or an employee, when you work on vacation, you’re sending the message that vacations aren’t really vacations and that work should always be the number one priority.
And consider this: when you take a true vacation and don’t check in with work until your vacation is over, your coworkers benefit, too.
When you’re fully disconnected from your job while you’re on vacation, you are letting your coworkers (or employees) know that you trust them. You are saying (without saying it) that you are confident that you’ve left everything in good hands and that you have faith that your team members are competent people who can handle things in your absence.
Take a Day
Your vacation days are something you’ve earned. Taking regular vacations (even during the pandemic) can help you be a better, more engaged, and more productive employee. And they have real mental and physical benefits that help your overall well-being.
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Rachel Pelta is a Content Coordinator for FlexJobs. With professional experience in job placement and as a manager, she creates content to help people succeed in their job search, and to help managers get the best out of their staff.…Read More >
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