The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth.

~Chinese Proverb~

Anxious Dilemma: When Taking A Break Causes Anxiety

A survey by Expedia shows that U.S. employees received an average of 12 vacation days in 2012. Typically, only 10 of the paid time off days were used. The only global area more workaholic is Asia, where workers were given about the same number of days off and used only half.

There is a different mindset in other parts of the world. Workers in Europe are guaranteed from 20 to 30 vacation days by national policy, and most Europeans take all of the allotted time off.

Why We Do It

There are at least three reasons why people in the U.S. do not take vacation days, and though they seem reasonable they also point to the fact that many of us live under nearly continuous stress and work pressure: 

  1. People are new to a job and have not accumulated vacation time.
  2. Employees use an option to roll over (save) unused vacation days.
  3. Employees choose the option of getting paid for unused vacation days.

There are also at least three unreasonable - but very real - reasons why people do not take allowed days off:

  1. Using “too much” vacation time is frowned upon by management.
  2. If employees fear lay-offs they tend to do what they can to be indispensable at work, including always being there.
  3. Working hard and doing what it takes is a virtue in the U.S., even if it makes us miserable.

The Cost of All Work and No Play

John De Graaf made a documentary about overworked Americans called Running Out of Time. He said, “Women who don’t take regular vacations are anywhere from two to eight times more likely to suffer from depression, and have a 50 percent higher chance of heart disease.” The health risks are higher for men.

Not enough down time is a problem for individual well being and in the long run, it taps into employer profits. A study conducted by Middle Tennessee State University found that stress-related health expenses costs U.S. businesses approximately $344 billion each year.

The Livable Truth

It seems we do not believe what research is forever showing us, that productive workers take frequent breaks. They also take time to pursue interests, enjoy family, friends, and leisure pursuits which sometimes involves doing nothing.

The University of Singapore did an interesting study. It revealed that employees who spend up to 20 percent of their time at work goofing-off on the Internet are nine percent more productive than disciplined workers who avoid online distraction. This indicates that most of us know when we need a break and then we get on with our work.

Now that the workplace has gone digital we are more productivity obsessed than ever, and because the economy is rocky, fear and anxiety in the workplace are high. However, depriving ourselves of long or short vacations harms our health, lowers efficiency, and creates resentment toward employers over time.

Taking Care of Ourselves

Not having a job causes anxiety. Living in fear that we will lose our job if we appear to be less than superhuman produces anxiety. Working as if we are superhuman causes stress, anxiety, harms our health, and lowers our work efficiency. We have created a difficult world to live in.

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