President Calvin Coolidge once said, "The business of America is business," and he was so right. However, even the hardest working of us need to think about taking time away from work in order to rejuvenate ourselves. Sadly, we Americans are pretty poor at taking time off and learning to relax.
While we are rightfully proud of being a productive country, which we have proved even during the most trying times – during a depression, in time of wars and the recent recession – we could be better to ourselves and be healthier if we lightened up. Time away from work, considered lost work time by some, makes us more productive when we return after a relaxing week or two away from smart phones, email, our jobs and our co-workers. Let’s pursue this thread and see how we can make improvements.
Europeans I have talked with tell me we miss out on a lot of the enjoyment of life because we don’t balance our lives. I find it ironic that we also seem to associate the majority of vacations with warm weather rather than pacing ourselves over the year (especially true for families with school age children) by taking a day here or there. Here are some telling statistics that reinforce our quandary.
“Almost 1 in 4 Americans have no paid vacation and no paid holidays,” Source: “No-Vacation Nation” Center for Economic Policy Research
“By law, Europeans have the right to 20 days of paid time per year,” Source: Marilyn Gardner, Christian Science Monitor
“Married men work an average of 54.5 hours per week, women 51.6.” Source: U. S. Department of Labor Statistics
“46% of U.S. Workers did not plan to use all of their vacation allotted in 2010.” Source: Rasmussen Reports
If these quotes and data aren’t enough, consider this observation by Diane Fassel, Ph.D., consultant author of “Working Ourselves to Death.” At a conference I attended several years ago, Dr. Fassel commented that when we put work ahead of everything else in our lives, we often suffer physical symptoms and increase our potential of acquiring serious diseases—heart problems, stroke, ulcers, etc. as well as disrupted lives and poor relationships. Work, as she noted, like other addictions causes many unintended outcomes. Sadly, our society often rewards those who work long hours, sacrificing other important parts of their lives such as family and friends.
Why is time off important?
We all know that even a change of pace – doing something different at work can help increase our productivity and attention span. Years ago, management experts realized that people need regular breaks away from their work stations in order to be efficient. Whether that is just stretching, getting a soft drink or a coffee or taking a short walk, the effect is the same – by changing our focus, we improve our ability to go back to concentrate of the tasks at hand.
In an Internet article by Willy Volk, titled, “Hey Americans: Take A Vacation,” he cites Professor Wallace Huffman, Iowa State University, who says, “Productivity could increase by up to 60 percent for employees in the month or two following a good vacation of a week or two long.” This reminds me of the “island time” phenomenon that people have experienced when their vacation is truly away from all of the external stuff that intrudes in our lives. If we are isolated on an island or elsewhere with little or no access to the outside world, after a week or so of isolation, we slow down, lose track of time and actually relax by being more in touch with our biological self. Once we return to the active daily grind, we have more physical and psychological resilience to withstand the stressors and perform at a high level because of the reprieve.
How can we do better regarding time away from work?