A recent post for Marketplace explores the uniquely American phenomenon of the “workplace martyr”– someone who cannot bring themselves to step away from work, lest they be looked down upon by their managers, coworkers, and clients.
But post author Mark Garrison opens this discussion with the following observation:
“Many Americans get frustrated when they hear about people who work for European companies; those lucky souls with upwards of six weeks paid vacation, not to mention generous family leave and a long slate of national holidays.”
Many of us probably know at least one person who echoes sentiments similar to these. But the revelation of the article– that, annually, Americans leave an average of five vacation days unused– should have us asking a different question:
Even if Americans were given leave schedules similar to those of their European counterparts, would those West of the Atlantic actually even bother to use them? If current data is any indicator of future behavior, the answer is a hard no. It may seem fine in practice, but what would the average worker do with more vacation days when they don’t even use the few they already have?
Garrison blames this unused vacation time on the veneration of the workplace martyrs, and the idea that it is admirable to keep yourself connected to your work, even when you should be removed from the office. But the workplace martyr is woefully misguided. While they think they are making themselves look like an exemplary employee or doing the company a favor by refusing to take time off, they are in fact doing damage to their own well being.
Oh, and they could be hurting the company, too.
It’s all quite simple, really. No one can work for so long and not get burned out. So it follows that, when you’re not mentally at peak performance, your work will begin to suffer. Your lethargy begins to show itself in your work; you mistake your bitter jadedness for a twisted sense of sangfroid. As your work suffers, you drag down company morale and productivity too.
The cure is simple. Just take a break. A real break; simply not going into the office but checking work email and completing tasks remotely defeats the entire purpose.
Not only does vacation revitalize your brain, but it can give you new perspective on life, the world, and your passions. You have the opportunity to reasses what is actually important to you, or take in the experience of something completely new. The worker who never goes on vacation has work that grows stale, but the one who explores the world (or even their own town!) will be able to bring new flavors to the table, and who knows– maybe a new skill or two as well.
All’s to say that vacation time is not undesirable. It’s needed. You won’t look like the hero for working around the clock– you’ll like someone who is afraid of life itself. Your extra hours on nights and weekends don’t drive the company closer to its goals, but instead pushes them away.
So go ahead, walk away from your desk.