Five benefits of taking time away from work

February 25, 2020

Taking time away from work and planning a vacation can improve your well-being in a variety of ways and help you achieve a better work-life balance.​

Mother and child packing for vacation

Part of working toward wholeness is finding ways to carve out time for yourself away from your daily obligations. That's why taking time away from work is essential to everyone's well-being.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, in 2018, employees in the United States wasted 768 million vacation days — a 9 percent increase from the previous year. And that number continues to rise. This state of overwork not only takes a toll on emotional and physical well-being, it also leads to burnout. Additionally, Americans lose hundreds of millions of vacation days, resulting in $66.4 billion in forfeited benefits.

Benefits of taking a vacation

In addition to making the most of your work benefits, here are five ways taking time away from work — whether you travel to a far-off land, stay at home, or opt for somewhere in between — can boost your well-being: 

  1. Improved physical and mental health and well-being. The biggest increase in happiness actually comes from planning a vacation, research shows. A person can feel the positive effects of planning a vacation up to eight weeks before the trip. After a vacation, improvements in mood, sleep quality, and even a decrease in blood pressure have been reported. Additionally, vacations are known to increase emotional well-being and decrease anxiety and tendencies to overthink, the effects of which can last up to two weeks after you return. Whether you're lounging on the beach, hiking your favorite trail, or staying home snuggled up with a good book, the ability to let things go is easier when you're on vacation.
  2. Increased productivity and creativity. Employees who use all their vacation time increase their chances of getting a raise or promotion by 6.5 percent when compared to coworkers who left 11 or more days on the table. This might be because of a dynamic known as cognitive flexibility — the component of your creativity that allows you to adapt to new thinking and face unexpected conditions. Cognitive flexibility has been shown to get a boost while you're away from your desk, resulting in more diverse and innovative ideas upon return.
  3. Decreased stress. Even a short vacation (four nights) can have a major impact on stress relief. In a 2018 study, it was found that one short-term vacation had immediate and profound positive effects on perceived stress, recovery, strain, and well-being, with effects still detectable at 30 and 45 days post-vacation. That's a great reason to get away.
  4. Improved family relationships. According to a study from the U.S. Travel Association, 61 percent of children want to spend quality time with parents on a vacation — time that's essential to building a stronger family bond. And 62 percent of adults say their earliest childhood memories are of family trips, showing the long-lasting impact vacation can have.
  5.  Reduced burnout and fatigue. Sleep debt is the loss of sleep that builds up when you're not getting at least 7 hours of sleep. A large sleep debt may even result in mental or physical fatigue. Vacations give you the chance to repay your sleep debt. By switching off the alarm, shutting down the devices, and perhaps lessening the caffeine intake that comes with a rigid daily schedule, your body can achieve a deeper, more restful slumber. Do this for four or more vacation nights, and you'll return to work refreshed and renewed.

Help with work-life balance  

The effects of a restorative and revitalizing vacation can last long after you return. However, for those times in between vacations when you may need help keeping life in balance, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), offered through the Board of Pensions in partnership with Cigna Behavioral Health, is available to help. All EAP services are confidential and there's not cost to eligible employees*, their family members, and anyone living in their household.

Services available through the EAP include

  • up to six face-to-face or online behavioral counseling sessions;
  • telephone consultation and support;
  • online resources for help with parenting and child care; work and personal relationships; pet care; healthy eating; and more.

To access the EAP's services, call Cigna Behavioral Health at 866-640-2772. Or log on to the Cigna website to live chat with an EAP advocate (one-time registration is required; use pcusa for Employee's Employer ID). 

*The EAP is not available to members enrolled in Triple-S, GeoBlue, or the Medicare Supplement Plan.