Other than a few national holidays, most American workers only get two or three weeks off each year. This is much less than what people in many other countries receive, and even that amount of vacation often comes with strings attached.
A typical German might get six weeks of vacation each year, and it’s normal for Germans to take three consecutive weeks off in August. One big reason for the difference is that paid time off is mandated by law in many parts of the world.
“Germany is among more than two dozen industrialized countries … that require employers to offer four weeks or more of paid vacation to their workers … But employers in the United States are not obligated under federal law to offer any paid vacation, so about a quarter of all American workers don’t have access to it … That makes the U.S. the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers annual leave”.
This is in stark contrast to the United States, where the U.S. Department of Labor states:
“The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations, sick leave or federal or other holidays. These benefits are matters of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee’s representative).”
Even when Rep. Alan Grayson introduced the Paid Vacation Act of 2009, which called for employers to provide just one week of paid annual leave to employees, it was quickly turned down with opponents noting it would, as CNN reported, “have a negative impact on business and that the government shouldn’t get involved in the workplace in this way.”
The Consequences of No Time Off
Nearly one in four Americans have no paid vacation and no paid holidays, according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research report No-Vacation Nation. But even when paid vacation is offered, one survey showed that 20 percent of workers said they are too overworked to use their annual vacation time — even though they already typically have fewer vacation days than workers in other industrialized nations.
Separate research also showed that although 79 percent of employees had access to paid vacations, more than one-third (36 percent) did not plan to use it in full.
What many fail to realize is that vacation time can be one of the best ways to actually increase productivity and performance on the job. A happy person is a productive person, and vacation time helps relieve stress and burnout, leading to a generally happier workforce, at least temporarily. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand why, but, research has proven this to be the case, nonetheless:
- A study of 87 blue-collar employees found vacation time alleviated perceived job stress and burnout
- A meta-analysis of seven studies found vacation time has positive effects on health and well-being
- Immersing yourself in a different culture may foster creative thinking
- Research in Occupational Medicine found vacation may improve well-being on a short-term basis
When a Vacation Can Ruin Your Health
Of course, it is also possible to increase your stress, depending on what type of vacation you take.
According to a Gallup poll of 1,000 Americans, 54 percent of people feel tired after a vacation, and 19 percent said they felt “very tired” or “exhausted.” Let’s face it — vacations can wreak havoc on your stress levels and health. Planning and packing for the vacation can be stressful enough, but even once you’re out the door car troubles, traffic, airport delays and jet lag can wear you out before you reach your destination.
Once you’re vacationing, it’s common for people to splurge on junk food and alcohol and get little rest while they try to fit in too many activities. It’s because of this added stress — poor planning, later bedtimes, unfamiliar routines, and excess drinking and junk food — that many people feel they need a “vacation from their vacation” when they return home.
So if your goal is to relax, your destination should reflect that goal. And, as you might suspect, how good you feel after a vacation is directly related to the type of vacation you take.
According to research published in the Journal of Travel Medicine, the following factors contributed to a restful, recuperative vacation:
- Free time for yourself
- Warmer, sunnier location
- Good sleep
- Making new acquaintances
On the other hand, exhaustion was increased by vacation-related health problems and a greater time-zone difference to home. But there is one caveat, and that is no matter how relaxing and positive your vacation experience may be, studies show the benefits of vacation fade soon after you return to work. So vacation time is not the final word in how to be truly happier and enjoy your life in the long-run.
How to Improve Your Health and Well-Being All of the Time
There’s no debating that a restful vacation can do wonders for your morale. But it’s also quite clear that once you get back into your daily grind, the stress that you felt before will return. So aside from offering vacation time, employers can do a great service to their employees by making their everyday work life a little bit better by offering nutritious food and access to a gym or fitness classes. At Mercola.com we actually built a fitness center and have three personal trainers that offer free classes to all of our employees throughout the week.
Additionally, lunchtime can be a particularly challenging time for workers to eat healthy; many end up taking up time, gas and money to leave work and grab a bite to eat. Most importantly, many people end up resorting to fast food or other junk foods because they don’t always have the time to prepare a fresh meal.
So I made the decision to provide free healthy lunches for my staff, and it has worked out really well. Our lunches are provided by a local restaurant chef who prepares nutritious and healthy meals, which frees up time, and also helps keep our staff well nourished.
I’ve personally witnessed staff members looking healthier, acting more confident and more energetic and generally being happier at the office knowing that we truly care about them as employees and as people, and want the best for them.
If you can, talk to your employer about working from home part-time or having flexible hours that allow you to have a better work-life balance. Really any methods you can use to make your workday more peaceful could have a beneficial impact on your health, since feeling stressed about your work can:
- Double your risk of dying from heart disease
- Make you almost twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes
- Result in a fatal jump in blood pressure levels
And the more you dread going to work, the worse your stress will become.
How to Make Everyday Feel Like a Vacation
Rather than waiting to enjoy life during the one or two weeks a year that you get time off, one of your best strategies is to invest in some serious reflection time and identify what you are truly passionate about. If you are not already involved in that passion at work then seek to change your circumstances as rapidly as possible to allow you to become involved in your passion.
This one simple trick will help you feel like every day is a “vacation” because you will love what you are doing at work.