It is hot outside. There is no denying that. It is H.O.T. Of course it is — it’s July. We are smack dab in the middle of the hottest month of the summer. We are reaching the 90s every day. We are getting heat lightning at night. And we are talking about back to school… wait, what?!?!
Newton County Schools go back next week. Some of our private schools wait until the first week of August start. But the fact is that for our youngest Newton County residents, summer vacation is over. Oh, yes, it will still be summer outside but the vacation part will be over. It’s back to routine. It’s back to work and schedules and worry and deadlines.
For some, it never stopped.
We have a global reputation for being a “no-vacation nation.” Vacations in the US are the shortest among the high income nations. While a quarter of our workforce get no paid vacation leave at all, there is another startling trend – of those that do get paid vacation, almost 40% leave between 3 to 7 vacation days unused.
So why don’t we take vacation time?
• Do we feel trapped by work? Many feel the need to “save” the time in case of a new baby, a serious personal or family illness, or a big life changing event.
• Do we feel like we will be seen as slackers by our managers if we tack time off? A recent US Travel Association survey said that two thirds of respondents reported that their managers gave negative or mixed messages about their paid time off requests.
• Are we so overwhelmed at work that the prospect of not being at work stresses us out? Our specialized approach to work often means that we work as silos in our respective fields with little cross training and, when we are gone, because there is no one to replace us, things tend to pile up when they are not tended to.
• Do we need to work more to get more? With the rising costs of health care, education, and entertainment, many of us feel the need to work harder to ensure we have enough.
• Does your work define your identity? Many people are so committed to their 40 hour a week profession that not only do we give extra hours every week but we find our sense of identity in our work.
Whatever the reason, it means literally there are thousands of vacation days left on the table. Actually it is more like 459 million vacation days according to the Department of Labor Statistics. (I kind of wish there was a lottery pool for the unclaimed vacation days that I could participate in, don’t you?)
Our tendency to not use our vacation time is not a healthy one. It is not coincidence that we are a nation with some of the highest levels of stress and depression. Health researchers, sleep researchers, and psychologists have found that there is a direct correlation between rest and good health, and rest and productivity.
Research shows that while a moderate level of stress can make us perform better, it is only healthy if it is short-lived. Excessive or prolonged stress can lead to illness and physical and emotional exhaustion. Taken to extremes, stress can be a killer. And while all sorts of situations can cause stress, the most common involve work, money matters, and relationships with partners, children or other family members.
Taking our vacation time is like preventive medicine against occupational and personal stress.
Now, that is not to say that you need to book a cruise or drive down to Panama City. It just means that if you are of the 75% that gets paid vacation time, you need to make efforts to take those vacation days to spend with your family, with your significant other, with your children, or just with yourself.
So while the kids might be going back to school and the end of summer vacation is upon us, let us consider ways to incorporate vacation “breaks” in the months ahead. Maybe take a day off for a day trip or a long weekend when your kids have that teacher workday off. If you don’t have kids, take advantage of the lower rates at most beaches and vacation destinations once Labor Day rolls around.
Let’s face it, we all need a little break now and then to relax and destress… so let’s take it. Even if the forecast is sunny and in the 90s for the foreseeable future!
Check out the many Georgia destinations at www.exploregeorgia.org. There are suggestions for family-friendly fun, romantic getaways, stay-cations, and many more.
Hosanna Fletcher has lived in Newton County since 2005. With a Masters in Public Health and another in Sociology, she has worked on a variety of community development projects, led training sessions for Lay Health Advisors, conducted and evaluated health risk assessments, and designed and implemented employee wellness programs. Hosanna and her husband Kevin, a Newton County native, have been married for 15 years this October. They have two children — Miranda, 11, and Thomas, 3.