The summer is slipping away, but don’t let your vacation days go with it. Here are some ways to get time off on your calendar and use it well.
U.S. employees left 662 million days of vacation unused last year—a third of which was completely forfeited at yearend—according to Project: Time Off. With summer 2017 coming to a close, are your vacation days on track to meet the same demise?
P:TO, a coalition started by the U.S. Travel Association, encourages people to take earned vacation as a way to improve personal well-being, happiness, and relationships, as well as professional performance.
“Businesses themselves should care about the vacation just as much as the individual employee,” Vice President and Lead Researcher Katie Denis said. “And that’s just because you see all these benefits of productivity, creativity, greater levels of engagement, retention—all this stuff that really matters to a business’s bottom line.”
In fact, P:TO research found that employees who forfeit their vacation time are actually less likely to receive raises, bonuses, and promotions. So, to help you use those vacation days before the end of the year, Denis offers a few tips.
Mark your calendar. Denis recommends that people plan when they will take vacation at the beginning of the year. But, if you weren’t so proactive this year, start by checking your leave balance and blocking off days during the next few months—perhaps over Labor Day or closer to the holidays—even if you’re not yet sure how you’ll spend the time.
“You don’t need to have every minute planned,” she said. “Just block that calendar because if you don’t block the calendar, it won’t happen. Create the opportunity for yourself.”
Plan ahead. Before heading out for vacation, have an open conversation with your manager and colleagues. Figure out what work you can get done ahead of time, and what your colleagues will need to take care of while you’re gone. “If you want to actually get away and enjoy the time, you really do need to coordinate ahead of time,” Denis said.
She explained that surveys show most managers are supportive of employees taking vacation, so don’t try to sneak out quietly. Set up an away message on your email sharing the dates you’ll be gone and who to contact in your absence—just make sure that person knows he or she is the contact!
Trust your colleagues. Work will not stop while you’re away, so you need to trust that your colleagues can effectively cover your responsibilities in the meantime. It may be an opportunity to cross-train employees and let others demonstrate skills they haven’t before.
“It can be a really good opportunity to give someone a chance to step up and take on a new responsibility, and I think that you get to learn new capabilities of your team,” Denis said.
Create boundaries. One argument for completely unplugging while away: Research from University of Texas Psychologist Art Markman [PDF] found that working an hour or more on vacation made people 43 percent more likely to forget parts of their trip. However, Denis acknowledged that not knowing what’s going on at work could cause some individuals extra stress, in which case they should set aside a short, specific time each day to check in and then communicate those distinct on- and off-times to others.
“If it’s just a constant stream and you’re functionally just working in a different location, you are not going to get those benefits,” she said.