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The Case for Vacations

Did you know that the United States is the only country in the industrialized world that doesn't guarantee paid time off for vacation, illness, or personal emergencies? We leave it up to the employer, and the result is that one in four Americans does not enjoy the benefit of a single paid day off from their job.

For those of us lucky enough to work for a company that provides paid vacation time, the average is only nine days a year, less than half of any country in Europe. In fact, the European Union requires that countries offer a minimum of four weeks paid leave in order to qualify for membership.

And we're co-conspirators with our employers. A poll that The Energy Project conducted on our site last year showed that fifty-eight percent of workers leave vacation days unused every year. More generally, according the US Department of Labor, on average, Americans forego 439 million vacation days a year.

It's understandable in this economy. To some, it may even seem ludicrous to some that we should be discussing vacation time when so many people are out of work. But with the leaner workforces and the longer hours that the recession has produced, it is more critical than ever that we be mindful about taking time away from work. Studies have shown that taking vacation time reduces the risk of heart attacks, depression, and premature death.

Germans work an average of 400 fewer hours a year than Americans, yet have comparable levels of productivity. How is that possible? The answer is simple: human beings are not designed to work continuously, for long periods of time, without a break. We are more productive and efficient when we move rhythmically between intense effort and deep renewal. This is true during the course of the day, and it's true during the course of the year.

For most of us, this is a time to be thoughtful about how we allocate our vacation time. We know that it's probably not advisable to take a two-week cruise in the middle of the busiest season. Talk to your boss about what's expected of you. When is the best time to take off? Will your job be at risk when you return? In a recession, we need to be more strategic about when and how we take off from work.

The good news is that even short periods of time off can be extremely beneficial. Taking a Monday or a Friday and truly disconnecting for the three-day weekend will allow you to return to work more focused, energized, and productive.

Reprinted from

Emily Pines is the Director of Web Marketing of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus, and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Follow Emily on Twitter @emilyjanepines.