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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Necessity of a Vacation

At the turn of the last century, the typical urban dweller worked a 10-18 hour day-children included, at least until child labor laws went into effect.  Taking a vacation or “holiday” was rare. The workaday life of the family farmer was no easier with a seemingly endless work day.  Today, the “average” American employee works a 40-hour work week-or so we’re told.  In reality, most Americans would be thrilled with the prospect of a 40-hour work week.  While many jobs require longer hours, things like commuting, children’s taxi service, errands, personal appointments and daily exercise push most employee work weeks well beyond 40 hours.

In addition to the tradition of a 2 hour mid-day “siesta” in many Europeans countries, employees there typically take 4-6 weeks of paid vacation per year in contrast to Americans who, on average, take 2-3 weeks of vacation time while praying they still have a job to come back to or that their co-workers will still be speaking to them after taking on the extra work load they’re responsible for while we’re away.  For the self-employed, taking time off can be even more difficult since there often isn’t anyone to “mind the store” in their absence.  Are Americans simply more driven, more productive, and more competitive than other cultures or are we just crazy?  Do the Europeans know something we don’t?

The concept of taking time off to reflect, refresh, and renew is not new.  The Sabbath, part of ancient Jewish tradition, and observed by Orthodox Jews and religious Christians, recounts how Moses at Mt. Sinai, received the order by God to observe the Sabbath as a day of rest, according to the fourth of the Ten Commandments. The line of transmission then extends back to parents who, in turn, received it from their parents, who received it from generations of Jews before them.  For many, the practice has anchored, ordered, and inspired their lives.  What do Orthodox Jews know that so many other Americans don’t?

American, European, Jew, or Gentile, we all need time to relax, recharge and rejuvenate.  Studies have shown that the ability to clear one’s head, relax, or refresh, allows us to return to “normal” life with renewed clarity, vigor, and enthusiasm.

According to Expedia’s ninth annual Vacation Deprivation™ survey, encouraging use of vacation time leads to higher productivity.  But “there is a growing trend of employed American workers not taking all of their vacation days even though the most productive, successful employees are typically those that utilize their vacation time and return to the office with a renewed sense of drive and determination,” the survey concluded.

And it continued…”nearly one of every three American workers is vacation-deprived.”  Americans are clearly working very long hours so why then, must we be pushed into taking a vacation?  Here are some of the reasons why we don’t use our vacation time:

•    11% prefer to get money back for unused vacation days.
•    10% feel the need to schedule vacation time in advance.
•    10% have a spouse/partner who is unable to get away from his/her job.

Here are some more surprising facts about our vacation habits taken from the survey:

•    About two in five employed U.S. adults (37%) report regularly working more than 40 hours per week.
•    As of 2008, a sizable minority-(24%) of employed adults check work email or voicemail while vacationing.
•    About one in five employed adults (19%) also reported that they’ve cancelled or postponed vacation plans because of work.
•    Roughly one-third of employed U.S. adults (34%) reported feeling better about their job and feeling more productive upon returning from vacation.
In these difficult economic times, many feel as though they can’t afford a vacation, even when they have the time off.

Enter the stay-cation; a concept which has made its way into American life at a time when few can afford luxurious vacations in exotic locales.  A stay-cation is often simply a few days, possibly even a week or two, away from work usually spent engaging in exciting activities such as catching up on errands, paperwork, household projects or other tasks that we are simply too busy to do any other time. Lounging in the sun, Pina Colada in hand isn’t necessarily part of the plan. Some people look at the time away from their stressful jobs as such a treat that even the absence of the ocean lapping at their ankles or the sand squishing between their toes is a welcome reprieve from the pressure of their daily work lives. Others enjoy the challenge of career positions and don’t see “work” as something they need to escape from.

A stay-cation can also mean a short, getaway over a long weekend to someplace far enough away to seem worth the trouble, yet close enough to keep costs down such as heading out by car, to a motel near the beach.  Or, a short drive to the lakefront where one can rent a cabin for the weekend at a modest price and enjoy the same sense of calm and serenity that a vacation requiring a 5 hour flight to another state or country could provide. 

Having time to rest and refresh is also important physiologically.  It’s now common knowledge that corporate exercise programs benefit companies in a variety of different ways most notably by increasing productivity, camaraderie, and morale, decreased sick days and health insurance expenses and reduced stress in the work place.  Enjoying some vacation time has been shown to provide similar benefits.

After several days' worth of sleep deprivation, sleeping in on the weekend or on vacation has proven to be of little benefit to your health but take note: According to a new report, after a few nights of little sleep, the participants in this study were able to recover substantially after one 10-hour night of sleep. However, they still showed lapses of attention, sleepiness, slowed reaction times and fatigue that lasted for several days. So although there is really is no “catching up” on sleep, a few nights of badly needed sleep can often only be found while on vacation, and can still provide measurable benefits.

Stay-cation or vacation, we need time off.  With so many possible ways to enjoy a holiday, why not spend it doing something really innovative…like having fun.  Give yourself the gift of rest; you deserve it!


The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath -Senator Joe Lieberman with David Klinghoffer  

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