Summer Survival Guide

Maximize Your Time Off

Laptop sinking photo illustration

Americans are famous (or rather, notorious) for not taking their vacation days from work. Ignoring your PTO became an office culture flex, in the same self-destructive vein as eating at your desk or going without sleep. And this was even before the pandemic canceled travel plans and forced many of us to work even longer hours at home.

According to U.S. Travel Association research, more than 768 million vacation days went unused in 2019. And more than 50% of American workers ended last year with time off in the bank. How does this happen? A few ways. Some people refuse to prioritize their own happiness in fear that taking time off from work will send a negative message to their boss. Others find that the “unlimited time off” offered by their workplace makes it tricky to know just how much to use or when they can actually get away.

Laptop sinking photo illustration

But the time is yours and it's vital you take it. Thankfully, with pandemic restrictions easing and plenty of offices still closed until after Labor Day, the Wall Street Journal reports that a lot of workers finally taking some breaks. And they aren't just getting away but attempting something they have rarely achieved before: actually checking out. Put in your PTO request, throw up the away message and don't look back until you sit back down in your office chair. Do that, and you'll actually feel recharged. Not guilty. Here are all the reasons why you should.

It Makes You Better
at Your Job

The secret to being more productive could lie in time off. An internal Ernst & Young study found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation time employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved by nearly 10%. In his book, The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor describes research that shows that when the brain can think positively, productivity improves by 31% and your sales ability increases by 37%. In short, the time off really does recharge you.

It Increases Your Chances of Getting Ahead

According to the Harvard Business Review, people who take all of their vacation time have a 6.5% higher chance of getting a promotion or a raise than people who leave 11 or more days of paid time off on the table. Sure, it's a small bump—and you could argue that it's a correlation versus a causation—but it defies conventional wisdom that staying at work might mean getting ahead. It simply doesn't.

Burnout Is Real

Your company wants you to work and work hard. But most managers understand that happy employees are more productive and collaborative. And burnout is not only a very real consequence of working too much, it's a potential liability for any workplace. And right now, nearly 80% of the American workforce reports feelings of burnout, according to Jessica Rector, a Fort Worth, Texas-based consultant who advises companies on employee burnout and wellness. She says it's a slow creeper, but once burnout really sets in, it will leave you feeling paralyzed with no end in sight.

You’ve Earned It

That indulgent dessert after a day when you've crushed a workout just hits different, right? Because you've earned it. Your PTO is the same way—it's part of your paycheck. Clinical psychologist Karin Lawson put it this way: “Would you not accept your full paycheck? Would you give a little back and say 'I don't need this much?'” If your or boss doesn't seem to have much of a work-life balance, that's their issue, but you should work really hard to not make it your issue.

Maximize Your Time

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Two weeks is a standard vacation allotment. And when used strategically, it can give you both a long vacation and a series of shorter breaks to keep you feeling refreshed. First, use a week of it all at once (it gives you nine days: two weekends and one work week). Use the other week to piggyback on paid holidays for extended breaks.