picture of vacation muskoka chairVacation time should be a time to rejuvenate and re-energize, giving yourself the energy you need to work more productively moving forward. We may not be able to get more hours in a week, but we certainly can renew our energy….rest helps. Ernst & Young research showed that for every 10 additional hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors improved by 8% and significantly impacted the likelihood of leaving the organization. There has been countless research studies that show that more sleep, including short and longer naps, significantly improves performance. Yet we continue to short change ourselves, with a study by Harris Interactive finding an average of 9.2 vacation days were left unused in 2012, up from 6.2 days in 2011.

Many work in salary positions where overtime is not paid at time and a half. In fact, it’s not paid at all. If you are expected to take time off in lieu, it can become an issue when you work a weekend, taking time away from family activities, and then lieu time is on a Monday when your family is back to school or work. Even worse is when workload is so high that you can’t take the time off at all. And sometimes when you use your time off, you can be preserved by some as ‘less’ of a worker. So instead we don’t claim the hours you worked, turning into an expectation to work extra hours without compensation.

For some, even asking for vacation can be a stressful event. It can be a complicated and drawn out process including forms, deadlines and approvals. It can require months of advance requests with no guarantee of approval and the possibility of your plans being thwarted. Vacation stress is further compounded by the fact that in many cases the workload is not redirected while someone is off work. This means that there is increased work load prior to vacation and the anxiety that is created knowing that there is a huge pile of work waiting for you upon return. Even if work is redirected it is likely to a less qualified employee, resulting in increased mistakes that will need to be managed when you return. This all leads to your mind and body leaving the state of rest and starting to gear up days before the end of vacation. Many have trouble sleeping or feel sick before returning from vacation. Even if you come back to work rested, it can be short-lived due to the extra work you’re facing.

What should you do? Firstly, get enough sleep each night, allowing for at least 8 hours for full recovery. You may think you are not impacted by a couple of hours less here and there, but it takes a toll both physically and mentally. Secondly, don’t let your vacation time carry over or be paid out because you didn’t plan for it in advance. It becomes harder to take vacation time once you’ve racked up many extra days and request time at the last moment. You are entitled to vacation and it’s up to you to ensure you get the time off you need. Thirdly, have a good understanding of the work that can build up while you’re away and work with co-workers, your manager and clients where possible, to ensure that your responsibilities are appropriately delegated or deadlines renegotiated. With proper planning there may be creative solutions including the use of students, coops and temps. Lastly, remember that in the end nothing else will matter if you don’t take care of your health and wellness