What if research proved the value of taking a vacation?

Take A Vacation

Take A Vacation

One of the biggest train wrecks about Americans — or really any “first-worlders,” I guess — is their complete inability to understand the need to take a vacation. In a given year, Americana leaves about 430 million vacation days on the table. That’s insane. Another word would be “asinine.”

If you go talk to people in American businesses, either informally or via research, the No. 1 reason you always get is “Well, I simply can’t take the time away at work!” That, or some variation on: “If I take a vacation, my boss will think I’m not focused and I’ll lose a shot at a promotion!” Both of these are also asinine. Your boss could likely care less about your career development, and people take vacations all the time and still get promoted. Promotions are predominantly based on the relationships you’ve built and whether you can make money for the company (and/or tenure). If going away for a week or two is going to jeopardize that, you’re probably working at the wrong place.

Here’s some new research on the value of taking a vacation. It’s not super convincing, honestly — it was done in concert with the U.S. Travel Association, who obviously has a semi-vested interest in people traveling more, and most of the findings are in correlation range as opposed to causation range. So, yes, it’s a bit limited. But still:

In The Happiness Advantage, I describe research that shows that when the brain can think positively, productivity improves by 31%, sales increase by 37%, and creativity and revenues can triple. In fact, the conclusion of my HBR magazine article, “Positive Intelligence,” which was based on a decade of research, was that “the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain.” To be truly engaged at work, your brain needs periodic breaks to gain fresh perspective and energy.

Very logical. If all you do is grind on deliverables and in-office politics — and believe me, those are there every week in every office, because people ain’t creatures of logic — then how do you even know if you’re doing the work right anymore? At some point, you just become a drone to your office and its culture and politics. If you don’t get out and see something else or experience something else… you’re not really actually helping your office. Bunch of drones chasing the same deliverables in the same way every day, with no breaks? That’s honestly leaving a bunch of money on the table, even if you can’t see it.

Here’s some economic logic, too:

If you’re a salaried employee, and if paid vacation is part of your compensation package, you’re essentially taking a voluntary pay cut when you work instead of taking that vacation time. Why would anyone do that? Four out of 10 employees say that they can’t take their vacation because they have too much work to do. But, think about it this way: Whether or not you take a vacation, you’re still going to have a lot of work to do. Life is finite, and work is infinite.

This is a crucial thing people never seem to understand: the ultimate source of “being happy” isn’t money or work; it’s experiences. You can have experiences in your backyard, yes, but a predominant way to have them is travel. That’s what you should be chasing. The work will always be there.

Here’s another thing of relevance, right? Sometimes I wonder if the real issue with vacation among Americans is that they don’t have the money and they use the “busy” excuse because they feel bad. Earnings are down, but we’re still around 2.8 kids on average for people that have kids. A five-person vacation to somewhere out of the country, or even a mid-level cruise, can cost thousands, even low tens of thousands. Not everyone has that scratch, and if they do, they might want it for something else (education, a nicer car, a bigger house, more Apple products, whatever). So maybe the real issue is money, but the stated issue is busy. The stated issue is almost always “busy,” so why not here too?


Ted Bauer

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