After we in higher education engage in one, or numerous Commencement ceremonies, and feel a sense of satisfaction that we continue to guide the development of our nation’s intellectual capital, many of our thoughts drift to a summer season of different projects and/or vacations.
As many others in the workforce have experienced, I would surmise, some of the most peaceful and restorative memories of the summer include strolling on the beach enjoying ocean breezes blowing through your hair, being soothed by the relaxing sound of the waves hitting the shore on a beautiful, blue sky day, and/or enjoying the natural beauty of wooded areas—without cellular connections. After about a week or so of listening to the waves, enjoying the peace of morning kayaking, or moving about without meetings and schedules, if we are lucky, a sense of renewed vitality and creativity emanates throughout our bodies.
Yet, for some reason, many Americans find reasons not to take their vacation days. Possibly, these workers feel that staying on the job and forgoing vacation days will keep them from falling behind, or possibly that staying physically at the job is a demonstration of loyalty, and therefore, a more direct line to success. Thus, it does not surprise me that several sources report that Americans take fewer vacation days than Europeans—leaving paid remuneration on the table or lost altogether. It is hard to imagine that with the increasingly persistent emails, text messages, conference calls, webinars, and videoconferencing (not to mention social media), that the need to disconnect from the work world has not become acknowledged as critical. Work worlds, moreover, are microcosms that are intricately linked to family worlds, political contexts, stock market performances, and global communities.
So, what is so special about going on vacation? Well for one thing, some of my psychologists colleagues have convinced me that the 24/7 work worlds that many of us live in produce negative effects on our bodies on both psychological and chemical levels. We need to periodically decompress and allow ourselves to experience some measure of peace without feeling guilty for using vacation days that are usually portrayed as benefits. It does not take an astute observer to note that there is life beyond work, and that a healthy life/work balance is essential to a productive workforce.
Conversations with colleagues over the years, and observations of colleagues, suggest that there is more than a modicum of chronic stress in our work lives that, if gone unchecked, will take unpleasant tolls on the body’s ability to resist infection, to maintain high energy levels, and to remain healthy enough to perform work at levels that contribute to productivity, innovation, and a desirable work environment.
There have been too many conversations with work colleagues about elevated blood pressure, acid reflux, inability to sleep through the night, memory issues, and a plethora of prescription medications needed to continue to work. Possibly, middle-aged employees experience these symptoms more than Millennial workers, but it is probably just a matter of matter of time—unless the work environment changes to encompass a more holistic view of the lives and needs of its human intellectual capital. Possibly, Millennials can help furnish some leadership in developing a work environment that is both supportive, challenging, and productive.
Until then, we might want to reconsider the value of vacation days!
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. (2010), The Importance of Vacations to our Physical and Mental Health, Psychology Today, (retrieved May 21, 2017).
Natalie Burg (2014), Forbes, Do The Europeans Have it Right? Do we Need More Time Off to be On at Work? (retrieved May 21, 2017).