Summertime means vacation time, right? Not so much anymore. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that "The average American man today works 100 more hours than he did in the 1970s, the average American woman 200 more."
According to an article written by Ezra Klein in The American Prospect, the average American worker takes only 12 vacation days a year as opposed to workers in France who take a month. Jobs.net.com says that according to an expedia.com survey, 63 percent of Americans work more than 40 hours per week and hand back more than $21 billion each year in unused vacation time. Seems fewer people, especially professionals, are taking vacations and those who do are often still tethered to their offices with laptops, e-mail and BlackBerrys.
Why? The current recession has made us jumpy about leaving the workplace even for just a few days or a week. Some are afraid of losing their jobs altogether; others are concerned about what might go wrong when they're not there.
Yet, vacations are not just nice, they are essential. In fact, stress.about.com quotes a study saying that just three days into a vacation a person's physical complaints, sleep quality and mood had improved. What's more, those effects were still present five weeks later. Here are some more advantages:
Life balance: Do we identify too much with our job titles and paychecks and not enough with the total human beings we are? A vacation forces us away from our workplace. Our minds are forced to shift. Ideally, we de-stress and open ourselves to new ideas and attitudes.
Relationships: The emotional and psychological support of family and friends can't be stressed enough. A vacation is the perfect time to renew and enrich the close, personal ties that are meaningful in our lives.
Reconnecting with self: A vacation helps you put your life in perspective. You have time to reconnect with what really matters to you and prioritize your values, hopes, dreams and aspirations. Getting out of the office and into nature can reset your brain and keep you healthy. For example, an article in mentalhealth/about.com states that mountains and beaches are especially beneficial. It says, "These natural environments seem to revitalize us. These boundaries between Earth and water and between Earth and sky have long been thought of as possessing healing powers." Those of us lucky enough to live in the bay area can enjoy those healing powers by simply taking a "staycation" and going to the beach.
Reward: Employee vacations reward the employee and the employer. Employees return to work rested and with a renewed sense of purpose. Employers benefit by the added productivity, energy and creativity these recharged people bring to their work.
How to ensure you get the most from your vacation
• Make sure you take a vacation — at least one, maybe two a year. If you can't get away for a long stretch, even a few days break the tension and help refocus your mind.
• Plan your vacation in advance to avoid last-minute stress.
• Set boundaries. If you must bring your BlackBerry, cell phone and laptop along, use them as little as possible. Some folks suggest checking in once a day and then putting the electronics away.
• Mix it up. Have some activities planned in advance then leave some downtime so you can take advantage of a serendipitous opportunity or just relax and do nothing.
• Document your vacation with pictures and souvenirs you can bring home. The memories are priceless not only for you but for your family members years from now.
Marie Stempinski is the founder and president of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg. She specializes in marketing, public relations, business and career trends consulting. She also leads workshops. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.