The other day, a friend mentioned that he was unexpectedly shocked to realize that he had developed what he termed a “tolerance” for tragedies. The news media spent so much air time hammering home the details of tragedies and disasters as they unfolded, which is harrowing information. But because there was absolutely nothing that he could do to un-do an event or make a tangible difference, he learned the art of “superficial caring” in place of the “visceral caring” that had always been his previous response. Professional helpers call it “compassion fatigue,” but it’s that same feeling that you get when you just don’t have the capacity to respond the way you once could.
This is not an anomaly anymore. Each of us has only so much energy to invest into any given activity, whether it’s physical, emotional, or mental energy, so we have to make decisions on where to direct our actions. However, it is also true that if we don’t make time to recharge our resources, we will have even less left to give to the significant others in our lives or to ourselves. Therefore, it is advised that we all find some way to take a vacation from the daily grind of work, bad news, and despair.
Do Americans Even “Believe” in Vacations?
It would not seem that the country is as invested in their employees’ mental health and time off as most other countries seem to be. The ranking of the United States in the “Mandated Vacation Days” comparison is absolutely dismal — the U.S. has exactly zero mandated days off. This compares to the 25+ that are mandated in Australia, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and Kuwait. I
n fact, the United States is the only country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that does not mandate paid vacation. Before you get too upset about this injustice, it might be even more upsetting to realize that Americans are leaving a lot of vacation days on the table each year. Not only do we not receive “mandated holidays,” employees who accrue time off are not even using all of it up — estimates put the number of days that Americans give the company, what amounts to “free labor,” at around 705 million days!
Following are some reasons to take the days you deserve — and even if you have to get creative to get some time off the clock, turn an evening off or a regular day off into a vacation frame of mind — it is well worth the time!
Benefits for the Body
According to the large-scale, longitudinal Framingham Heart Study, people that forego vacation time away from the workplace are facing significantly increased risks for heart trouble and early death. If a woman allows six or more years to pass between vacations, she is eight times more likely to develop heart disease. Men who forego their annual vacation times have a 32 percent greater risk of dying of a heart attack.
Sleep patterns improve during vacation times, because you’re more able to let your natural circadian rhythms rule your bedtime and wake time. This was just one finding from a study commissioned by New Zealand Airlines and conducted by Mark Rosekind. We sleep better on vacation, and this effect lasts for weeks after we return.
Reaction times improve when you take time for a vacation, according to Rosekind’s study. Stress overworks the brain, and when you’re constantly overloading and dividing your limited attention span between computer screens, cellphones, conversations, and worries about what you should be doing that you don’t have the time to do, you lose the ability to pay attention to what is going on around you.
You’ll be more productive if you get out of the office for some R&R, too. For every 10 hours of vacation time taken, productivity improves 8 percent, according to findings from an Ernst & Young corporate study.
Loyalty and Job Satisfaction
The Society for Human Resource Management, an organization dedicated to professionals’ best practices in HR, found that people who use their vacation days regularly are also more loyal to their employers. Vacation-taking workers are also less likely to leave their jobs. This is good news for businesses, as most successful managers recognize that happy employees make for more profitable organizations.