Exploring the Hidden Costs of Not Taking a Vacation

Exploring the Hidden Costs of Not Taking a Vacation

Exploring the Hidden Costs of Not Taking a Vacation (1)


This may or may not be top of mind for you as we ease into the warmer months of the year. If you’re like most workaholics, myself included, you probably think you’re too busy to take a vacation, right?

Allow me to pass on something important that I learned about vacations recently.

You see, for many of us, vacation planning is pretty low on the totem pole, ranking down there with that preventive health exam we’ve been putting off for a year. For the most part, we don’t even use all the vacation days that we’re given. Did you know that American workers left 429 million vacation days on the table in 2013, according to a U.S. Travel Association study, and that only half of Americans went on or planned to go on vacation during 2014, according to a recent MasterCard study?

What’s more, apart from how this affects us personally, our failure to take vacation has drastic implications for employees, companies and our economy, where paid time off left unused in 2013 alone had the potential to produce 850 million additional travel days—or $67 billion in additional travel spending and 1.2 million more American jobs, according to a February 2014 Oxford Economics report. (1)

Through procrastination and lack of planning we send a clear message to ourselves and to the world that vacations are optional.

But are they?

It can be helpful to think of vacations in the context of work-life balance, something that’s been on my mind since returning from a refreshing weeklong vacation cruise up the west coast with my Canadian husband and his extended family.

The term work–life balance was first coined in the U.K. in the late 1970s and gained traction here in the U.S. around 1986. It’s an attempt to define the proper boundaries between our work (career and ambition) and personal lives (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation) and connects to the idea of lifestyle choice. (2)

Initially, I wasn’t that excited about the cruise, having already visited most of the destinations on our route. Somewhere more exotic would have stirred my interest and the timing for the trip didn’t seem optimal. But here’s what I discovered about work-life balance from my recent vacation:

After months of feeling overworked, I returned with a positive focus and a fresh perspective. The time I spent reconnecting with family, ages 14 through 80, and the change in routine, scenery and ocean air left me with new intellectual acuity. Cell phone service at sea is expensive and they get you for roaming charges even when you aren’t using it. There was Internet access, but then I would have been tied to a desk in my cabin with a laptop. So I took the opportunity to be unplugged and untethered to my computer and email for the duration of the trip.

…OMG—unplugged for five days.

I discovered, almost counter-intuitively, that I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the work that awaited me upon my return. Rather, I felt buoyed by the sense of increased productivity I had, where I could do much more in less time.

I had better workouts at the gym all week long, which gave me more physical energy. I had more aerobic capacity and worked through my routines feeling like an Olympic athlete—I really enjoyed working out.

In fact, the investment in family time may be the best reason of all to take a vacation: I got to know the 14-year old; we had all of our dinner meals together; I went dancing with the twenty-somethings, and got to play Bingo with the elders (and didn’t win).

So when’s your next vacation?

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If you’re meeting three interviewers bring in a four-finger KitKat bar. Take charge of breaking apart the KitKat and distributing it to the interviewers to emphasize your leadership skills.

1. Oxford Economics: An Assessment of Paid Time Off In the U.S., February 2014 (Accessed May 12, 2016) http://www.oxfordeconomics.com/my-oxford/projects/280061.
2. Work-Life Balance, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work–life_balance and Borzykowski, Bryan. The Surprising Cost of Not Taking A Vacation, The New York Times, Accessed May 12, 2016: http://paidpost.nytimes.com/mastercard/the-surprising-cost-of-not-taking-a-vacation.html.


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