Employee engagement. It’s the holy grail for employers and employees alike. Leaders put a great deal of focus on ensuring employees feel connected to their work, to their colleagues, and to their company as a whole. Employees also want to be engaged—to have a passion for their jobs, to enjoy their coworkers, and to be committed to making a difference in their organizations. But when does this engagement start to take a toll on the employee? When does a person’s commitment to their work become all consuming, causing a deterioration in one’s quality of life and work?
You can gauge this by asking yourself a few simple questions: Do you experience high levels of work stress? Do you dream about work at night so much so that it feels like you never leave the office? Are your evenings and weekends consumed with thoughts of work? Or with actual work? Are you working longer hours and producing less, or lower-quality, work? Are you getting sick more often? Do you find it challenging to remember when you last took time off? If you answered any of these questions in the affirmative, it might be time for a vacation.
A Google search reveals the growing treasure trove of information touting the positive effects that employees can experience when they take a vacation. Taking time to unplug from work can offer so many benefits that one might wonder why more people who are able to do it don’t. Three of these benefits are better mental health, improved physical health, and higher productivity at work.
Senior Manager of Operations and Communications Kelli Shine in Granada, Nicaragua
Let’s start with mental health. Neuroscientists looking at the impact of stress on the brain point to lower cortisol levels when explaining why a vacation contributes to stress reduction. When a person is stressed out on a consistent basis, high levels of cortisol (the primary stress hormone) can alter the structure of the brain, causing anxiety and depression. Psychologists argue that anxiety can cause a person to focus more on problems than solutions, resulting in the persistence of problems and the stress that they cause.
This brings us to physical health. There’s growing evidence that stress isn’t just rough on our minds, but it can also have a negative effect on the rest of our bodies. So taking a vacation—if you really allow yourself to get away mentally—can interrupt chronic stress and anxiety. Over time, continuous mental stress can lead to a weakened immune system and high blood pressure, and the latter can result in heart disease. Stress can also cause a person to adopt dangerous coping mechanisms like excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and overeating, which can also result in poor physical health. Taking a vacation can reduce stress and lessen the chances of developing long-term physical ailments.
If all of this science isn’t enough to convince you to go away for a few days, and if your only thought is about letting your company down with your absence, then think about it this way: If you’re constantly working, then you may not be producing as much quality work as you think you are. You may be spending too much time agonizing over certain projects, rather than creatively and successfully completing them. Your performance at work can suffer and, ultimately, have a negative effect on your company.
Office Manager Kelton Zenishek in Manhattan, NYC
At Firewood, we value work-life balance. And we respect our employees’ vacation times. One reason our co-founders decided to start this business was to infuse more balance into their lives and to provide the same for their employees. There’s so much respect for Firewoodians’ paid time off (PTO) that our employee handbook explicitly states that when on PTO, employees are not permitted to work. On the rare occasion that something urgent comes up that requires an employee to fulfill a work-related request during their time off, that particular PTO day is credited back to the employee. Yes, even if the request doesn’t take an entire day to complete, that employee gets their PTO day back to use at a later date.
Senior Digital Marketing Manager Mamou Kilambi at the Eiffel Tower
We’re about to slide into the summer months—a time when children are out of school and frolicking, traffic seems lighter, the serotonin-inducing sunlight lifts our moods, and everything seems to slow down a bit. This is as good a time as any to check in with yourself and take inventory. How long has it been since you’ve taken a break? Has it been a while?
If you’re a little nervous about taking a day off during the week, start with the weekend. How do you normally spend your two days off? Are you constantly checking your email? Does Monday feel like a continuation of Friday? Try turning your work brain off on Saturday and Sunday. Take a drive to a place where you can commune with nature. Spend a full day or two with your family. Hang out with the friends you seldom see because you work too much. Check out the cool, new restaurant just out of town. Start binge-watching that show you’ve been wanting to see—yeah, the one that everyone in your life has been raving about. Have a vacation mind-set for a couple of days, and see how it feels
Director of People and Culture Kamron Hack in Kauai
On Monday, see if you’re so far removed mentally from Friday that you have to remind yourself what you were working on last week. Are you feeling more refreshed? Is your head clearer, allowing you to produce better, more creative work? If you’re experiencing any of these effects after a couple days of checking out, maybe it’s time to book that dream vacation. Respites range in location, length, and cost, so don’t let distance, time, or money stand in your way. You can recharge without going very far, staying for very long, or spending very much.
And don’t worry—the work will be there when you get back.