Taking a vacation from work is essential for your health and well-being as a worker and a human being

Rebecca SchalmI recently returned from a two-week road trip. Being away, really off the grid, gave me time to reflect on why taking annual leave is essential.

That’s how vacation used to happen – annual leave where you left the office, packed up the kids and the station wagon and were absent for several weeks.

Now, we squeeze in a long weekend between due dates and business trips and rack up unused vacation days. It has gotten so bad that most employers have done away with vacation carryover.

Somewhere along the way, we gave up our right to put down our tools and rest.

I’ll admit at the outset that I’m a vacation-taker. It goes back to my childhood. My dad was a teacher, so, come summer, we had the opportunity to take off for weeks at a time. I got into the habit.

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I even remember a shocking time in the mid-2000s when I spent three weeks touring Australia with my Blackberry locked in the hotel safe in Sydney.

While that may be a bit extreme, I do think breaking away from work in a meaningful way, for a significant period, is critical to our health and well-being – as humans and as workers.

There are at least seven good reasons to take your annual leave:

1. Because you’re probably a lot more tired and stressed than you realize

I met with someone one time who had just returned from 10 days away, his first vacation since starting a new job over a year ago.

His colleagues had noticed he was becoming increasingly irritable, which is uncharacteristic for him. He admitted he should have done it sooner, but it wasn’t until he stepped away that he realized just how tense he was.

Now that he’s back, his tolerance and optimism have returned.

2. Get outside your comfort zone

Vacations are a really good way to experience discomfort for a short time. You can try something you’ve never done, go somewhere you’ve never been, or spend time talking to people you don’t regularly encounter.

There aren’t many other opportunities in life to be someone else for a couple of weeks, and fewer opportunities to learn more about our world and its people.

I guarantee it will give you new and unexpected insights into some of the issues you’re wrangling with at the office.

3. Remind yourself that everyone is frustrating from time to time, not just the people you work with

A couple of weeks away with those you love most will remind you that living with and accommodating other people is challenging.

It isn’t just your colleagues who are irrational and annoying and try to make your life miserable.

4. Give others a break from you

Let’s face it: it’s possible you’re also annoying at work occasionally. Going away gives other people, direct reporting teams in particular, an opportunity to get a break from you.

I’ve heard some people say their boss going away is a gift they cherish.

5. Remind yourself you’re not indispensable

Believe it or not, the world does continue to turn in your absence. I know you understand this theoretically, but it’s good to experience it in practical terms now and then.

The reality is that you’re probably more committed to your work situation than it’s committed to you. It’s good to remember this from time to time.

6. Give others development opportunities

For many of us, someone needs to stand in for us when we go away. This is an opportunity for others to practise higher-level decision-making or authority or test out different skills.

Taking a couple of weeks away can be an excellent learning opportunity for someone else.

7. Build your resilience

Holidays have a way of confronting us with unexpected problems we don’t immediately know how to solve.

Friends of mine had their passports stolen on their last day in Prague. Talk about an opportunity to demonstrate problem-solving and resilience.

Not that I would wish that on anyone, but you get the drift.

We’ve created a world that’s constantly ‘on,’ and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be constantly ‘on.’ For our own well-being and that of others, sometimes we just need to give it a rest.

Rebecca Schalm, PhD, is founder and CEO of Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., a consultancy that provides organizations with advice and talent management solutions.

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