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DE-STRESS

Pack Your Bags, America

By Hannah Goodwyn
CBN.com Producer

CBN.comTraveling through unforgettable cities, I jump from one uniquely beautiful continent to another. From the blue lagoons off the coast of Australia to red deserts in New Mexico, I have a passport, a carte blanche to go wherever I want.

Snapped back into reality, I close the Web browser — my gateway to relaxing escapes — and get back to work. I will visit travelago.com, a site that provides Internet users with inviting video from countries around the globe, on my next five-minute break.

These little virtual trips are fun, but they just aren’t enough. As summer draws nearer, I am ready for some real time off.

Remember that Universal Orlando television ad of the executive who is sarcastically giddy because more and more American workers are not using their vacation time? “Keep up the good work, America. And remember, your time is our money,” the elated CEO says.

After watching the commercial, I laughed — for all of two seconds. Then, I decided to find out why we are giving away our time.

It is not because Americans do not want to take vacations, because most do, according to a 2003 MetLife survey (1). Of 957 respondents, 68 percent of workers rated paid time off as their most valuable benefit, above pension plans and dental, disability, and life insurance.

Although it is a high priority and most have access to paid vacation days, a 2005 survey found that one in three had not and were not planning to use their time off, according to the Overwork in America study (2) conducted by the Families and Work Institute.

Now, why would anyone give a vacation day up?

There are a couple of valid reasons. One is that some people would rather trudge through the piles of work on their desk than enjoy a nice long vacation only to return to a bigger pile. Others may feel the pressure from employers to stay on the job because of projects that need attention and lack of workers to fill in for absent vacationers.

Joe Robinson, founder of the Work to Live organization, wants to reverse this trend in workplaces across the country. He believes that Americans do not take time off for more specific reasons.

“Well, it’s a convergence of a number of factors, mostly downsizing,” Robinson said in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered. “The people who are left at those jobs are now doing the work for two or three people, so there’s more work and it’s harder to get away from that work.”

Technology and feelings of fear and guilt also are big factors. People get what he calls a “false urgency” related to issues at work. The immediacy of e-mail and cell phones creates an impulse in workers to follow up on messages because they believe they cannot wait. Robinson also said that our idea of constant productivity encourages us to think that vacation is somehow an illegitimate reason to miss work days.

Not only is getting away from the office for a week exhilarating at times, but it is also vital. Workers who do not take advantage of vacation time risk their lives.

“For example, only 8 percent of employees who are not overworked experience symptoms of clinical depression, compared with 21 percent of those who are highly overworked,” reported a Families and Work Institute news release published in 2005.

Considering that this study found that one in three people believe they are overworked, the number of workers who suffer from depression is relatively high.

Work-related stress also beats down a person’s health. It can even cause distress to the heart. Time away from the office can decrease the “risk of death from heart disease in men by 32 percent and in women by 50 percent,” according to an article Robinson wrote for The Los Angeles Times.

By taking a vacation, workers are rejuvenated, which in turn makes them more productive. The Overwork in America study found that workers who take days off return with a higher level of energy.

They also found that more time spent away – totally separated from the office and work – means the more relaxed workers feel. A few days off does not necessarily work as effectively as extended vacations. Of those who took one to three days off, 68 percent felt energized when they returned. The study discovered that 85 percent felt even more energized when they took seven or more days.  Only one of every ten American workers leaves the office for vacation for two or more weeks.

“Sometimes being truly away from work helps employees return less overwhelmed and more able to engage energetically in work,” the Families and Work Institute news release stated.

Looking at the consequences, it is hard to come up with a reason to put my health and sanity in jeopardy, especially when the remedy is simply using my paid vacation days.

Time and financial constraints do not allow everyone the luxury of taking a trip to Europe or the Caribbean. But taking a long break from the office – even if it is spent at home – benefits employees who need time away from the stress. By allowing workers to take days off, employers can gain a more productive staff and decrease their chances of having to pay higher insurance costs because of unhealthy employees.

So, give your mind and body a break by enjoying a great vacation.

Send me your comments. I appreciate your feedback.


Sources:

1 The MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends: National Survey of Employees and Employers. 2003.

2 Overwork in America: When the Way We Work Becomes Too Much. Families and Work Institute. 2005.

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