Taking time off work reduces stressNearly three-quarters of all American employees earn time off work. But while they understand the benefits of a vacation, most don’t use all the time they’ve earned. National Travel and Tourism Week (May 3-11) is a great time to reflect on the value of taking time off and even book your next vacation.

A study by the U.S. Travel Association and Oxford Economics found that in 2013, 42% of employees finished the year with unused time off. For the entire workforce, this equals a staggering 429 million unused days. That’s an average of 3.2 days per employee earning time off.

Why Don’t People Use Their Time Off?

Taking more time off leads to higher productivity, stronger morale and lower stress. But many people leave vacation time on the table because of barriers rooted in workplace culture and in the minds of employees:

  • Some managers discourage taking time off, so employees have reservations about requesting it
  • At least 40% of U.S. workers feel overwhelmed by work and feel they can’t get away as a result
  • Some workers are so dedicated to their jobs that they don’t want to get away

Is Time Off Really Time Off?

Those factors also play into why employees can’t fully disconnect on vacation. A survey by job site Glassdoor found contact with the office was common while on vacation. The survey asked why employees work while on vacation:

  • 33% – No one else at my company can do the workTaking time off work is good for your health
  • 28% – Fear of getting behind
  • 22% – Complete dedication to company
  • 19% – Want a promotion
  • 19% – Feel like they can’t be disconnected

How Does Time Off Benefit You at Work?

A study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that HR managers believe employees who take vacation time perform better and experience greater job satisfaction.

  • 77% believe that employees who use most or all of their vacation time are more productive than those who take less vacation
  • 78% associate taking advantage of vacation time with higher employee job satisfaction
  • 75% agree that employees who take most or all of their vacation perform better than those who do not
  • 70% said taking vacation was extremely or very important to inspiring creativity

After taking time off, 67 percent of employees reported feeling refreshed once back at work, 32 percent felt more focused, and 40 percent were less stressed.

How Does Time Off Benefit You Away from the Office?

  • Both managers (67%) and employees (55%) believe taking all your vacation time helps your physical health.
  • 58% of employees also claimed paid time off improves their social life, and 67 percent believe it improves family life.
  • Overall, a significant 80% of Americans believe that travel improves their general mood and outlook toward life.

For more on the benefits of taking time off, watch this video from the U.S. Travel Association:

Tips to Take Time Off

  • Don’t wait for work to slow down. There will never be a perfect time to get away from work on a vacation.
  • Plan far in advance, including communicating your days off to co-workers. You can get ahead of your workload if you have plenty of time before the vacation. Plus advance notice will reassure your colleagues.
  • Keep technology turned off – or even leave it at home. If you’re taking it with you and can’t resist the lure of checking work email, set firm limits on when and how long you’ll work.
  • Start with a mini-getaway. If you’re stressed out about leaving the office, take a long weekend or a few days off. You’ll still enjoy benefits and can gain confidence that all will be well if you take a longer break.

Why is taking time off for travel important to you?