Nearly everyone recognizes the importance of taking a break from work. Time off makes workers happier, helps them rest, allows them to do things that they love, and improves their attitude and focus at work when they return.
Why, then, did 41% of American workers plan to not use their vacation time in 2014?
There are a zillion reasons, and some of them are even good. However, most of these have some easy workarounds, assuming you give it a little thought and put in a little effort. You shouldn't have to compromise on the breaks you've earned — and deserve.
1. Plan Ahead
Sometimes, people don't take their vacation days because they can't get the weeks off that they want, or because they don't have time to plan the trip that they'd really like to take. This doesn't have to derail your vacationing efforts, though.
If the days you really want are days everyone else is going to want off too, make your best effort to accommodate this. As an example, some workplaces have a lottery for these days, so make sure you participate. Avoid the most congested vacation weeks, and opt for nearby time slots. For instance, it's usually easier to get the week before Christmas off than the week of Christmas.
When in doubt, get some vacation days on the calendar even if you don't know what you want to do with them. If nothing else, you can play tourist in your own town and sleep in every day!
2. Work Ahead
Many people don't take their vacation days because they're worried about getting behind at work and returning to a mountain of tasks. While you can't completely counteract this, it's possible to complete most work in advance, or to otherwise plan around your absence.
It's perfectly acceptable to plan your vacation during a slow time of year at work, in order to avoid a backlog while you're gone. You can also plan your schedule and make budgets, schedule events, meet with clients, etc., before you go so those tasks aren't hanging over your head when you return.
3. Empower People Around You
If the people around you know that you have confidence in them, they will work just as well when you're gone as they do when you're in the office. This will hold true even if you're a manager or own a business.
Make sure that the people you work with know that you trust them to make good decisions even if you're not there. Explicitly explain your trust and expectations. Doing this may also mean that they'll have your back while on vacation, taking care of pressing tasks in your absence.
4. Stop Saving
About 38% of the people who don't use their vacation days are saving time off in case they need it. While it's good to be judicious with your vacations, most companies won't let you save your vacation time forever (and increasingly, many companies won't let you save much at all!). This means that you either use your vacation time, or you risk losing it.
5. Be a Great Employee
Employees also worry about being seen as expendable or as not committed to their jobs when they use all of their vacation time (or worse, when other people don't use theirs). The truth is, your employer is not allowed to fire you for using your allotted vacation time. Still, people worry that this will happen to them.
Nip this in the bud by being a superb employee. If you're good at your job and clearly focused and committed when you're there, no boss will begrudge your well-deserved time off. Most companies know that employees who use vacation time are happier and more productive on the job, and taking time off doesn't imply disloyalty.
6. Open Communication With Your Supervisor
Some supervisors seem to discourage employees from taking the time off that they've earned. If this is your boss, talk to him or her about it. You don't have to make it into a confrontation. Simply say something like, "Hey, I'd really like to take my kids to go do X, but I've noticed you seem a little stressed. Is there anything I can do to help you out so that my leaving won't make things worse?"
You can also offer to coordinate time off with other employees or with your boss, in order to ensure all bases are covered and everyone gets their due vacation. The goal here is to make this a topic you and your boss can talk about, rather than one that everyone tries to avoid.
7. Remember: A Job Is a Job
In the end, your job is not your life. Your job is your job, and a vacation can help you remember that when you're tempted to put all your time and energy into work. Even if you love your job and it's one of the most satisfying parts of your life, it's still a job. Remember this, and it will help you choose to take every single bit of vacation time you're entitled to, without worrying about what might happen later.
Do you plan to use all of your vacation this year? What do you want to do with your time off?