In America, we are horrible about taking vacation time off of work. The culture here very much penalizes you in the form of emotional hijacking, where you feel guilty for leaving your job, even for a short period of time, or you fear losing a career advancement opportunity because your absence equates to laziness and lack of commitment.
What’s even more sad is that a lot of the vacation hours we accrue is PAID time off (or PTO)…and we aren’t using it!
WE GET PAID VACATION.
While jet setting every month is obviously detrimental to your career, not taking any time off of work at all can be detrimental to your health. We are human. We all need a break from the monotony of our workdays and relieve the stresses of daily life. Just like you feel better and refreshed after a good night’s sleep, think of how much better you’d feel if you took a mental and physical break for a few DAYS.
The Mental Health Benefits
Paid vacation time off is usually accrued incrementally based on the number of calendar days, or hours worked. Once you’ve banked enough hours, you are eligible to use them for time off during the next pay period. Other jobs are set up in a way that gives you a certain amount of annual leave as determined by contract, which often increases based on years of service with the company, or based on your overall experience. These days or hours you’ve accrued are separate from sick leave, unpaid leave or FMLA (family and medical leave act, where you take time off to deal with immediate family emergencies).
Whatever your source of vacation time, or how much you’re able to take, time off is a part of everyone’s job and everyone is entitled to using their vacation. Even if you don’t travel, time off, in and of itself, is important. In the medical field, specifically, physician burnout is increasingly becoming a problem, making it even more imperative that we make time off a priority. For all professionals, a vacation can help put things into perspective and improve our ability to let go and be more mindful.
Check out these links for more on this phenomenon
So How Often Should You Take Vacation?
How you define vacation time, how much you take, or how often you jet set, and where you go is determined by a lot of factors: travel budget, family obligations, number of days you can take off at once etc. For me, personally, I know that I get antsy, edgy and stir crazy every few weeks. As a result, I make an effort to take vacation every three months or so, aka 4 weeks each year.
For me, the 3-month mark works really well. I feel refreshed when I come home, and as the weeks go by and that antsy feeling returns, I know I have something to look forward to.
No matter your budget or responsibilities, I encourage everyone to incorporate some time off of work into your schedules at regular intervals…whether it’s trips abroad, staycations, or road trips to nearby destinations, do whatever works for you, your budget and your schedule. Often, vacation time is a use or lose it type of thing; so you will not be able to pro rate, or carryover, your unused vacation days off into the next year.
What I see some people do, to reduce the amount of time off they need to ask for, they’ll ask for their vacation days around the holidays or long weekends. Given that they’ll receive holiday pay, and then paid vacation time, it’s a win-win. This is also a good strategy if your vacation leave is unpaid. By sandwiching a long weekend between the days you take off, you’ll reduce the amount of unpaid leave you take.
However you decide to do it, just remember that taking care of yourself is just as important as everyone and everything else you care for.
Let’s Make Taking Vacation Time the Norm
We need to break the cycle in our society and make time-off the norm. The job you have isn’t going anywhere. Coming back refreshed from vacation may actually help you think more clearly and get the promotion you were hoping for! Taking a trip, either with friends or traveling alone, can help you regain perspective and remind you why you chose a career in medicine (or another high-stress job) in the first place.
Plus, you aren’t taking off randomly; the vacation time I’m advocating for is time you already have set aside by your job as protected and paid for. All I’m saying is that you should take advantage of what you already have offered to you.
Life is Too Short to Let Time Pass Us By
Take advantage of paid time off of work. Life is short and you’re only young once. Your kids are only young (and willing to travel with you), once. With the changing political and social climates around the world, the opportunity to see some areas may only come once!
Take advantage of your youth, your energy, the time you do have. Make the most of it. Take the vacation and LIVE. The job will always be there, the stress will always be there. That will not change. But you CAN change how you live, how you adapt, and how you cope.
Whether you take extravagant vacations, or just take some personal time to reset, vacation time can go a long way towards improving your longevity in the workplace. Burnout is real. We need to ensure we work into our schedules sustainable methods of taking care of ourselves. If you’re an employer, recognizing that time off is important for employees is just as important.
As a society, we need to normalize this behavior and not penalize people. As an employee, I encourage everyone to put aside any guilt or fear of repercussions. Your mental health and personal time is much more important!