You’re never too stressed to take a vacation, right?!

If all decisions in work and life were truly based on rational thinking, taking a vacation would be a no-brainer. We work, we go to school and run around, take care of kids and family, shop and launder and cook and more and more “ands” than there is time to count. We know we want, and need, time off from our many regular pursuits, yet as employers and workers, making that time, taking that time, and using it to the fullest are huge challenges.

Considering we’re a society that claims to love our vacations, it’s curious that Americans don’t take enough vacations, and often don’t even use the vacation days we’ve earned. Unfortunately, job reductions, doing more with less, constant deadline pressure, financial challenges, and our own sense of insecurity drives us to make bad choices about our need for healthful relief from our jobs. And whether you’re an employer or an employee, you’ll both suffer for the lack of time off, whether it’s staff or management time.

Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. We emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again. We gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines.

Alternatively, chronic stress takes its toll on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and ability to avoid injury. When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and accidents are more prevalent. Ironically, though, even trying to arrange and take the time for a vacation is stressful – little wonder we often put off making our vacation decision, feel guilty taking time off, and have trouble relaxing when we finally do get away. But stop to consider the consequences of not changing our routines or finding ways to relax and get away from every-day worries.

Time off from our jobs and our regular routines helps us manage stress, improves our bonds with family, friends and co-workers, can alleviate fatigue, and strengthens our immune systems. When we’re stressed our work performance suffers. That has an impact on customer service, as well as safety, quality and productivity. Most of us are harder to get along with when we’re under pressure and feeling anxious, and more prone to depression, memory loss, distraction and bad decision making. We eat poorly and sleep less. Whether you’re typically healthy or not, that’s an insidious mix, and while vacation or time away from work and our regular routines won’t cure it all, vacations offer an important break.

With tough workloads and schedules, cost issues and market demands, employers often send mixed signals to their staff about accommodating time off. Instead of being supportive, there’s often the unspoken caveat, “Sure, take the time off, but make sure all your work gets done and nothing falls through the cracks.” The insinuation is that vacations are inconvenient, and the time is allowed reluctantly instead of graciously as the earned benefit and healthy break it represents.

Sometimes vacation days carry over from year to year, and employees “stockpile” them, but it isn’t healthy, despite longer-term intentions. And while in today’s unstable job market it’s understandable that employees – or managers – are reluctant to take time off, employers should be encouraging this healthy respite.

Vacations have the potential to break the cycle of stress that plagues most working Americans. When we return to work we’re happier, better focused, more pleasant and more productive. Everyone benefits – so if you’re an employer, start asking your team when they’re planning time off, make it as easy as possible for them to take their breaks, and book yourself some time off, as well!

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!