Get out of here already!

Why your presenteeism and face-time are ruining everything

Photo by I. Jack Gaines

I recently made a big investment in my job that will make me more productive, more accurate and efficient in my tasks, more creative, more collaborative, and a better coworker and employee. It helped me to shake off the creep of complacency, and gave me fresh perspective. Have you guessed what I did? I left my office. For two weeks. I didn’t even bring my phone . I completely disconnected and went on vacation.

For a long time it’s been a common humblebrag to be “so busy,” at all times. We may get a little boost to our confidence when we assure ourselves that we couldn’t possibly leave work, because the job is too important, and no one else can do it. Project: Time Off found that 54% of Americans fail to use their full vacation time each year, leaving collectively over 600 million days unused each year. Think of all that unspent free time the next time someone says they’re too busy.

The truth is, the work will still be there, and people who take vacations tend to be better and faster at their jobs. A Stanford University study found that those who work more than 50 hours a week see a decline in productivity. Project: Time Off also reports that those who don’t take vacation time are 23–27% less likely to be promoted, and 78–84% less likely to get a raise than those who do. Also, an internal survey done by EY found that for every 10 days of vacation time an employee took, they saw an 8% increase in performance. If the work is that important, and you really are the only one who can do it, that’s only additional reason to take your time off!

It’s a mistake to equate time at a desk with quality work and productivity, or to prize “presenteeism” over creativity and time-management! People who never take time off, even for a lunch break, are more prone to both mistakes and burnout. The same EY study found that each 40 hours of free time equated to an additional 8 months of tenure for that employee.

Studies show that the human brain can only give focused attention to any one thing for about 90 minutes before needing a rest anyway, while those who get out of the office and into a park at lunch return more relaxed, more focused, and more creative.

Vacation time allows you to reconnect to other interests, outside of who you are at work. No matter how much you may love the thing you do to pay your bills, once upon a time there were other things you enjoyed too. Learn to make a new recipe, or pull out that sketch book again! Engaging your brain in different ways will bring you back to work more refreshed, and ready to make new connections and see new solutions.

And a longer break — of days or weeks — also leads to increases in those improvements!

Many American workers don’t get paid time off at all. If you’ve got it, don’t squander it! Even if you really can’t get away for a full week, try taking one day. Take a mental health day, go to the beach, read that book you’ve been meaning to pick up, or get an early lunch at the hot new restaurant before the rush! In many companies, unused paid time off sits on the books as a liability. So do your part, for your health, for your productivity, and for your accounting team, and give yourself a break! You’ve earned it.