by Parvizjon Subkhankulov
Summer vacation is a time of nostalgia for many of us, reminding us of carefree days spent with family and friends. But as adults, those memories can feel like they're from a lifetime ago. The American workplace is notorious for not giving employees much time off, with most employers offering only ten paid vacation days per year, compared to 28 in the UK and 30 in France. The US is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee vacation time to its employees, and 1 in 4 Americans receive no paid vacation at all. Even for those who do get time off, the prevalence of smartphones and wifi makes it harder to disconnect, with many employees ending up working on their vacations.
But the problem isn't limited to the US. An Ipsos/Reuters survey showed that only two-thirds of employees worldwide use all of their vacation days. And for those who are self-employed or work on a freelance basis, time off can mean losing clients or forgoing earnings. Even salaried employees may feel like they can't leave the office for an extended period due to the pressure to be productive and the fear of the repercussions of taking time off.
However, the logic of both employees and employers is flawed. Cutting into vacation time is detrimental to both organizations and employees in terms of financial and productivity costs. Research has shown that detaching from work is essential to enhanced productivity. When people don't detach from work, they are more likely to suffer from exhaustion, while those who do recover from job stress and are more likely to have higher engagement levels at work.
It's essential that employees take breaks and disconnect from work, even if it's only for a short time. Taking micro-breaks during the workday and engaging in active leisure activities during time off can help improve mood, vitality, and productivity. Employers can help their employees by educating them on the value of breaks, looking at accrued vacation time as a red flag for burnout, and encouraging employees to unplug completely during time off.
Taking breaks is crucial for long-term productivity and well-being, and failing to do so costs employers billions of dollars per year. Chronic stress caused by overworking leads to lower attention spans, health problems, accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, and decreased productivity, all of which cost the US industry $300 billion annually. So, while short-term solutions like micro-breaks and daily downtime can help, taking longer vacations is still the best way to recover from job stress and maintain optimal productivity levels in the long run.