Why It's Essential To Completely Unplug On Vacation

Illustrated by Alena Jaffe.
In the lead-up to the the July 4 weekend, most of us have vacation on our minds. After all, once upon a childhood, many of us enjoyed long, lazy summers off. These days, most of us are chained to work through the warm months, maybe grabbing a day or two away from our desks here and there. But, it’s one thing to receive PTO — and quite another to truly take advantage of it. According to travel site Skift, last year, close to 42% of Americans didn’t take any personal days. Zero.

Yes, we're all "too busy" at work. It's so hard to get away! But when you don’t use your days off, you essentially lose money. According to a research study conducted by Oxford Economics, Americans toss aside $52.4 billion every year. Each employee ends up forfeiting about five days of vacation. That’s like working for free for a week.

To remedy this situation, some companies offer unlimited vacation time or pay a vacation incentive. (Software firm Evernote actually gives $1,000 to any employee who takes at least a full week off, on a real vacation — no staycations permitted). Many employers see the tangible effects of this, such as boosted productivity, increased morale, and decreased health insurance costs.

If you're not lucky enough to work somewhere that encourages time off (and even if you are), it's crucial to be vigilant about your backup plans. Meet with a colleague to train him or her for your absence, emphasize the benefits of staying offline during your break, and most importantly, demonstrate your increased motivation once you return from vacation — to showcase its added value.

While many of us feel our roles are crucial to keeping the workplace working (which is a good feeling!), it's also essential to give yourself a break. Ahead, we outline the reasons unplugging is necessary. So talk to you boss, find some time on the calendar, and book a vacation. You'll be a better employee because of it.

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Illustrated by Alena Jaffe.
You’ll be healthier.
Taking time off is crucial for more than just your mental health. Stress from work can take a toll on your body, and according to a Framingham Heart Study, taking a vacation (as in actually not checking email) every two years compared to every six years will decrease the risk of coronary heart disease or heart attacks.

Plus, according to a 2005 study conducted by the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin, women who vacation less than once every two years are more likely to suffer from depression and increased stress than women who take vacations at least twice a year.
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Illustrated by Alena Jaffe.
Your relationships will strengthen.
International research led by Purdue University found that family vacations contribute positively to bonding, communication, and solidarity.

Whether you travel with your roommate, significant other, or a sibling, the shared experience fosters growth and connections — what sociologists call a "crescive bond." These happy memories can help boost positive ties during the rest of the year, when we're so busy with work and don't have the time or focus to nurture our most important relationships.
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Illustrated by Alena Jaffe.
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You can work out like a local.
Take advantage of the time away from your desk chair — and email, office phone, and messenger — and explore your destination on foot. Not only does exercising outdoors pack a one-two, mood-boosting punch, but you’ll also get a unique view of your vacation spot. An added bonus? If you’re staying at a Westin hotel or resort, you can pick up a running map and rent New Balance gear right at the front desk, so you won’t have to shove sneaks into your already-packed carry-on.
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You’ll sleep better.
Taking a much-needed break might help you get a better night's rest, even after you return home.

Scientific consulting firm Alertness Solutions worked with NASA pilots and astronauts on sleep issues. A group of 15 people flying from the west coast to New Zealand for seven- to 12-day vacations wore wrist devices (to measure quality and quantity of sleep) and maintained sleep diaries. They were hooked up to brain monitors and took vigilance tests to determine their reactions.

Two or three days into the trip, they averaged an additional hour of quality sleep and improved reaction times by 80%. The really cool thing? After returning home, participants still slept an hour more each night — and reaction time was 30 to 40% higher than before their vacation.
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Illustrated by Alena Jaffe.
Your productivity and creativity will improve.
Simply stated, long breaks replenish job performance. The Harvard Business Review reported on a 2006 Ernst & Young study "that found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their performance reviews were 8% higher the following year."

While various studies have shown productivity declines as we work beyond 40-hour workweeks, it actually improves when much-needed restorative breaks are introduced. One of the best ways to harness creativity and productivity, researchers say, is to take breaks .

In an ABC News article, clinical psychologist Francine Lederer explained, “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation.”
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Illustrated by Alena Jaffe.
You'll be happier.
Come on, get happy! According to a Vacation Deprivation study published by Expedia, 80% of workers worldwide said a vacation contributed to their overall happiness. Nearly one in four said they would give up a week of sex for merely one additional vacation day.

Your better mood will start even before you take off: According to a study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, simply planning a vacation can boost your happiness. So, if you feel jubilant booking an upcoming trip, you’re not alone. There’s something to be said about confirming vacation plans. In the study, the effect of “vacation anticipation” increased happiness for eight weeks.
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Illustrated by Alena Jaffe.
You could even get a promotion.
According to research conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, taking a vacation actually increases the likelihood of getting a raise or promotion. In fact, the association launched Project: Time Off, an initiative to showcase the personal, professional, economic, and social benefits of taking time off.

Need proof? People who take all of their vacation time have a 6.5% higher chance of getting a promotion or raise compared to people who forfeit 11 or more days of paid time off.

Disconnecting completely will ultimately do your career some good. Staying connected to work 24/7 during precious PTO isn’t the best move. The next time you’re in a hammock somewhere tropical and are tempted to check in with the office, promptly dismiss the notion in favor of replenishing your mind, body, and yes, your career.
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