The Perks of PTO (Paid Time off)

Study after study shows that American workers know taking time off is important, but still 4 out of 10 do not take all of their PTO each year.* That’s almost half! Workers reported barriers that prevent them from taking PTO. 40% pointed to a mountain of work, 35% said there is no one to cover their workload, 33% said they couldn’t afford it and another 33% indicated their high position in the company kept them getting away. *U.S. Travel Association/Travel Effect: Study of 1303 Americans working 35 hours or more per week that received paid time off.

Expedia published a report in 2011: Americans earn fewer vacation days compared to other countries. And, leave two days unused annually on average.

The Atlantic: Over 50% of working Americans had up to two weeks of unused vacation time at the close of 2011. The only thing employees gain by being tied to the office is stress. There was a clear correlation between those who have more unused PTO days and those who reported feeling “very” or “extremely” stressed at work, particularly for those employees who leave more than 11 days unused.

Without making a change, Americans will continue to relive this sobering reality each year: forfeited vacation time, burnout, less time for loved ones and friends, and the-opposite-of-good consequences for health and well-being. The good news: we can change and be a part of a culture shift that puts the American dream back in its rightful position. We need balance in life-work-play! Discover the simplicity of having something to look forward to (like a trip). It will brighten your days and the sun will start to peak over your cubicle.

Like most, I have to work to get away too. I don’t make six figures and the ebbs and flows of cash flow are ever on my mind. There are schedules to consider, money to set aside and research to complete before leaving on a destination. There is a small business to run and new projects are not cultivated without my organized effort. But, what I’ve discovered is that vacationing more often has made me more efficient and joyful about my daily tasks. I feel compelled to pass this knowledge along to friends and colleagues who lament their 50-60 hour workweeks. I’ve heard many friends say, “Work is crazy busy and I can’t take time off right now.” Then, months, years go by and “now” became three years later. It’s time to support a new movement, to stop the glorification of busy and overwork.

Newsflash – Busy does not mean efficient. I’ve learned less multi-tasking and more dedicated time to one task creates hours to carve off schedules. Discover a mindset to be efficient and focused in 40 hours to carve out more personal or family time. With something to look forward to, (a vacation or new hobby for example), it’s easier to find the motivation to complete work with renewed zest. Up the travel dosage, or at least start by taking a Friday off and turn a weekend into an adventure maybe just an hour from home.

Let go of the guilt and fear, use vacation time and ask the boss about flex-time. Offer to work longer days Monday through Thursday for a Friday early-out. Many employers understand that flexibility boosts morale and provides increased performance and loyalty. As a boss myself, I’ve seen this shift firsthand. Don’t assume the supervisor or boss will say no and don’t leave unused paid vacation on the table. PTO is paid time off. You are getting paid not to work! It’s a novel concept, and time the mind, body and soul needs to be healthy.

What has busy done to us? Nothing good. According to Time Magazine’s, “Save our Vacation,” from June 2015 by Jack Dickey. Quality of life and vacation time has eroded along with the quantity. Technology now perpetually tethers workers to the office; the smartphone never takes time off. Most people, 61% according to a 2013 survey – say they typically keep working even if they are not at work. By 2001, a third of Americans said they were chronically overworked. Exhausting days lead to lethargic, stress-filled (and accordingly sleepless) nights. The body and mind take big hits; studies link overwork to depression and cardiovascular problems.

What’s the formula for reaching balance in work-life-play? Work is not the bad guy – it’s the guilt-hurdle in our minds. We work to achieve and earn time away. Part of what makes a vacation so fulfilling is the knowledge we’ve earned it and that we really deserve it. What’s the right amount? At least three to four weeks per year, six weeks is ideal, considering the pile of 50-hour-work-weeks. My methodology: plan a trip or weekend away once per quarter. Breaking the year into four parts helps make the planning and timing easier to handle. And, my to-do lists include two color-coded sections: one for work tasks and the other for trip planning/research.

Our minds need to change and grow outside of a dull routine; a new place or situation can access that part of your brain. A quote from Braveheart comes to mind, “Every man dies, not every man truly lives.” The guilt of being away from work, resides in our mind, not the boss’s. She has other things consuming her like payroll taxes, the HR scandal and making sales projections. So, take the trip, lose the guilt and return refreshed. Find a new appreciation for people or a place that holds memories much dearer than water cooler conversations. Plus, co-workers will be thankful the perma-scowl has left your face after a break.

The corporate ladder goes up, but it has plenty of spaces between each rung for exploration. With that thought in mind, I suggest you start packing.

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