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Why Only Suckers Don’t Take Summer Vacations

Jennifer Henderson

Corporate America has an attendance problem. The problem is that most of us can’t be pried away from our desks at any cost. In fact, a survey from travel industry research firm Skift found that 41% of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day in 2015. An additional 17.4% took fewer than five days off throughout the year.

We’ve become so neurotic about not taking time off that we’ve started guilt-tripping colleagues who do decide to unplug for a few days. Research from car rental giant Alamo found that almost 60% of Millennial employees reported feeling as if they’re being shamed by older coworkers for taking their vacation days.

It’s currently prime vacation season across the country. For those of you who need a little nudge in order to take advantage of your hard-earned two weeks (or more), here’s why you should pack your bags this summer.

Avoid burnout at a critical time

Researchers have found that vacations reduce stress and work-based worry, especially among the most fretful employees. Time off, even if it’s a brief break, also increases productivity and focus, the former of which is frequently top of mind for employers looking to maximize the effort they get from their workforce. In many industries, the pace of work slows in the summer months, only to ramp up again in the fall. If you want to be at the top of your game after Labor Day, it would be behoove you to take a vacation now.

Introduce distance to improve creativity

Researchers at Indiana University found that increasing psychological distance (imagining a situation or challenge as further away) actually promotes creativity in generating solutions to that problem. If you’ve ever come back from a holiday more clear-headed about thorny issues in your professional or personal life, this research explains why. And you don’t need to embark on an action-packed outdoor adventure like hiking the Grand Canyon or backpacking through Europe in order to exercise your creative muscles. Simply loafing around the cottage for a few days can give you the time and space to recharge your mental batteries. Need more proof? Lin-Manuel Miranda came up with the idea for smash hit musical Hamilton while on a resort vacation in Mexico. Are you really going to argue with a guy who has a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant? Didn’t think so.

Embrace the economics

Research from Project: Time Off found that Americans had 658M unused vacation days last year. Of that total, 222M were “lost,” meaning that they couldn’t be rolled over to next year, paid out or converted to some other benefit. These days represent $66.4B in foregone benefits and break down to two full days of free work for each American employee. Ouch. If we had used all of our vacation time, we could have added $223B in new spending to the national economy and spurred the creation of 1.6M new jobs.

Whether you do it to avoid paying the productivity price later, to top up your creative tank or as part of your patriotic duty to fuel the American economy, taking a summer vacation just makes sense. Bon voyage!

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