5 Vacation Anxieties You Need to Get Over ASAP

I’m not usually one for tough love. But it’s time to get over your fear of vacation, America.

This is not to say it’s an irrational fear. As I’m preparing to head out on my own vacation next week, I can think of a million things I need to cross off my to-do list and how I’m afraid that there just aren’t enough hours in a day to finish them all. But I’m here to remind myself—and you—that these vacation anxieties are detrimental to your well-being, productivity, and as it turns out, even your chances of getting a raise or promotion.

Our latest research uncovered a number of fears American workers have about taking time off. And because we’re so afraid of leaving the office and taking time off, we don’t talk about it very much, which leads to a pervasive stigma around taking vacation, so we still don’t take any time off, and round and round we go.  

When you think about it though, leaving hundreds of millions of unused days on the table is a headscratcher. As this Inc.com piece so perfectly put it:

This year Americans missed out on a record-breaking 658 million vacation days. Just to underline the point, that means that 658 million times the nation's bosses collectively said, 'Go for it! Kick back and relax -- we'll pay you anyway,' and 658 million times some U.S. worker, replied, 'No thanks, I'd rather just come in to the office instead." 

What could we possibly be thinking?

Exactly. What could we be thinking and what are we so afraid of? Let’s look at some of the reasons we have anxiety about leaving the office, employ some logic and research, and get you to stop worrying and just go.

You don't want to return to a mountain of work.

You’ve got a point there. Yes, you’ll likely have a pile of emails to sift through when you return. But if you play your cards right, you’ll be returning to work less stressed, more refreshed, and ready to focus. Your boss thinks so too. Managers we surveyed said that increased employee happiness is the benefit that motivates them to encourage time off (31%), but just after happiness, 21 percent believe time off for their employees leads to them being more productive upon returning to work, and 16 percent of managers say that time off improves an employee's mental state.

Vacation, not a cubicle, might be the setting for your next great idea. You know the old adage, “I get my best ideas in the shower?” Turns out, there's research that backs the idea that relaxation leads to more creative thinking. So if you’ve found you’re hitting a wall at work, taking a break could be just the solution you—and your company—need.

You’re just too busy to take a vacation.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there is no magical treasure chest of time hidden somewhere. We continually say at Project: Time Off that you’re not going to find time, you have to make it. There will always be some reason it’s not the “right time” to go away. Granted, every industry has its busy season and you absolutely should coordinate with your teammates about taking time off around those periods. So grab a calendar, pick a week, book your vacation, and don't allow yourself any excuses. Fifty-two percent of Americans who plan their time off took all of their vacation time in comparison to 40 percent of non-planners. As an added bonus, our research found that planners are happier with their personal relationships, financial status, and career.

You think no one else can do the job.

Instead, you could look at it as an opportunity to cross-train your team. Motley Fool recognizes it’s a critical failure if one employee goes on vacation and everything comes to a screeching halt. So they cross-train their employees, giving them the opportunity to stretch their capabilities, as well as teach others about what they do. Chances are unless you’re the President of the United States (and even they need time to recharge, too) or a world-class surgeon, you can plan ahead, brief your team about important projects or tasks before you leave, and delegate work

You don't want to be seen as replaceable.

It’s ironic that we don’t think anyone can do our jobs while we’re gone, yet worry that everyone at the office will get along so swimmingly in our absence that we’ll be replaced. But not taking any vacation could actually be hurting your career. Employees who take 10 or less days of vacation time are less likely to have received a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who took 11 days or more. Taking your earned time off doesn't make you a slacker. It shows your manager and the rest of your team that you can be responsible and manage your time and workload. 

You worry about what everybody else will think (read: you’ve been vacation shamed).

Have you ever heard, “Oh you’re taking a vacation…must be nice.”? If you’re a Millennial, chances are you’ve heard something like that before—and been the one saying it. The 2016 Alamo Family Vacation Survey revealed that 59 percent of Millennials feel a sense of shame for taking or planning a vacation. Worse, Millennials are almost twice as likely as older generations to vacation shame their co-workers (42% vs. 24%).

In order to reduce the stigma and guilt around taking time off, we've got to ditch this habit. If you're the boss, this is where you come in. Bosses are the most powerful influencer when it comes to taking time off, and 80 percent of employees would take more time off if they felt fully supported and encouraged by their boss. If you're a manager, make it a point to review your organization's vacation policy with your team, discuss the value of time off, and model good behavior by taking your own earned vacation days. And of course, don't roll your eyes or mutter "must be nice" when Joe from accounting says he's going to Florida next month. 

So now that you're out of excuses, what are you waiting for?

Note: The data and statistics referenced in this post have been updated since we originally published this post. Learn more about the State of American Vacation 2017.

August 1, 2016