It may sound counter-intuitive, but taking a break from work improves your productivity--personally and professionally. Besides the obvious benefit of allowing you to rest and recharge your batteries, a change of scenery, pace and perspective is good for your mental outlook. Former NASA scientists found that people who take vacations experience an 82 percent increase in job performance upon their return, with longer vacations making more of an impact than short ones. Putting in too many hours, on the other hand, does the opposite. "While it's commonly assumed that the best way to solve a difficult problem is to relentlessly focus," Jonah Lehrer wrote in his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, "this clenched state of mind comes with a hidden cost: it inhibits the sort of creative connections that lead to breakthroughs."
The benefits of taking vacations can even be seen at a molecular level, according to John Tierney, a science reporter for The New York Times. "A vacation reduces stress hormones and boosts your immune system," he says. "The science is very clear on this. People who take more vacations have fewer heart attacks, suffer less from depression and are actually more productive at work."
And yet, despite those benefits, many Americans have a hard time taking time off. The average U.S. employee who receives paid vacation has only taken about half (54%) of those days in the past 12 months, according to a survey of over 2,200 workers by careers website Glassdoor. Why don't they take what's due to them? "Fear," says Scott Dobroski, career trends analyst at Glassdoor. "That's the underscoring theme." They fear getting behind on their work (34%), believe no one else at their company can do the work while they're out (30%), they are completely dedicated to their company (22%), and they feel they can never be disconnected (21%).
If you identify with any of those sentiments it might be a good idea to examine them more closely---ideally while on vacation. "A vacation is really good for your mind," says Tierney, "because doing new things stimulates dopamine activity in your brain, which gives you more optimism and more energy." That same brain activity is associated with falling in love, he says, "So it's a nice way to reignite a romance or build any kind of relationship."
And if your fear is still overcoming the obvious benefits of taking time off, consider what the cold, hard data shows. "People who take more vacations get more raises," says Tierney, "and they get more promotions at work."
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