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The Summer Vacation That Wasn’t

Research shows that only 40 percent of Americans take vacations, much to our careers' detriment.By Deborah Goldstein
Vacation, all I ever wanted… Cue the Go-Gos. After yet another week of deadlines, rushed meals, and summer colds that took out each member of my family, one by one, I recently found myself on the brink of a self-serving, bratty pity party. I wanted—needed—a vacation. But with Labor Day weekend creeping ever closer, the realization that I would not be taking a week off this summer became painfully clear. Turns out I’m not alone.

Adweek recently reported that only 40 percent of Americans planned on taking a vacation this summer. Of those, nearly half said they would do some work during their time off.

How did we get like this? Or, more importantly, what are the consequences and how do we change it? I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this: If we don’t take breaks, we start to suck at our jobs. At least, that’s how it works for me.

Tony Schwartz, author of Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live, offers proof behind the vacation/job performance correlation:

“A 2006 study of employees at Ernst & Young, the accounting firm, found that for each ten hours of vacation employees took each month, their performance reviews were 8 percent higher the following year. The more vacation they took, the more their performance reviews improved and the more likely they were to stay at the firm.

“Even tiny increments of time off seem to have very positive effects. Two Harvard Business School professors recently undertook a project among consultants at Boston Consulting Group. Consultants were asked to take off one evening a week—not one day, but one evening—from all work. It’s a measure of how out of control work has become in some professions that such a project was even possible. Amazingly, the experiment actually met with considerable resistance from the consultants themselves. The notion of not checking their BlackBerrys, and not making themselves available to clients even one night a week provoked concern and anxiety. But six months later, the consultants who managed to take the evening off reported higher job satisfaction, more open communication, better work/life balance, and a greater likelihood that they’d stay at the firm than the consultants who continued to work as they always had.”

See? Everybody wins. If you do make time for a break but can’t resist reaching for a gadget on your way to the beach, bring your e-reader. According to Adweek, 47 percent of those polled say it made them more likely to read for fun. Work can wait.

Deb Goldstein is a freelance web editor and writer, having clocked time for MarthaStewart.com, Family.com, and Wonderwall.com, among others. A former New Yorker, she now lives in bucolic Bucks County, Penn. with her husband and young son. She enjoys tantrum-free car rides, inappropriate humor, and a compelling story, whatever form it comes in.

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