Got Vacation Time? You Should Use It, Especially Now.

The coronavirus pandemic is stressing everyone out. If you can, take a break — and don't feel guilty about it.

You need a vacation, even though you can’t really go anywhere. The world is reeling from a public health crisis; the global economy is tanking. If you still have a job, you’re either going to work in the middle of a pandemic or stuck at home, still trying to work ― and you’re probably working harder than usual.

You’re stressed as hell. Things are bad, home life is crazy, especially for people with children or who are caregivers for others in their homes. Working under these circumstances takes a lot out of you. The endless barrage of awful news takes a real toll, not least because of how little control we have over the viral outbreak.

It’s time to embrace something simple that Americans seem to resist: time off. You need it. You deserve it. You earned your paid vacation days just as much as you earned your paychecks. Plus, the year is almost halfway over, and the novel coronavirus doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Take a day. Take a few days, if you can manage it.

Sleep in. Read a book. Binge a TV show. Start a DIY project. Watch old baseball games on YouTube. Go on a drive or a bike ride or a hike. Bake something. Play a video game. Hide from your kids in the garage with a bottle of wine. Do absolutely nothing at all ― just imagine it! Your brain and your body will thank you.

So will your boss and your co-workers, if they’re smart. The alternative is sliding deeper into anxiety until you burn out, which doesn’t do you, your family or your employer any good.

Sadly, not everyone can give themselves a rest. The United States is alone among rich countries in not guaranteeing paid vacation time to workers. By contrast, countries like Canada and Japan mandate 10 paid vacation days a year, and residents of European Union countries are guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days annually.

And while more than three-quarters of American workers do have paid vacation benefits, they’re heavily skewed toward higher-income earners and people who work full-time, as shown in a 2019 report from the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research. For instance, 91% of workers in the top 25% of income have paid vacation, compared to 52% of workers in the bottom quarter of the income scale.

Data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics further show that workers in fields like construction and the service industry are much less likely than management and professional workers to have paid leave of any kind, including vacation time, sick days and holidays.

Look how relaxed she is. That could be you.
Look how relaxed she is. That could be you.
Fizkes/Getty Images

There also are people for whom taking time off in the middle of the pandemic might not be possible, like front-line health care personnel, first responders, essential workers at grocery stores and other businesses, or a self-employed person or small business owner trying to keep their companies open. This also might not be feasible for lots of others for a variety of reasons. And of course, there are more than 39 million workers who are suffering from joblessness who didn’t have a choice.

But for everyone else, there are no good reasons not to give yourself a chance to recharge.

Don’t let your boss try to make you feel guilty for asking, or try to pit employees against each other. Handling a company’s workload with an absent employee is a management problem, not a worker problem. There are reasons bosses get paid more, and that’s one of them.

You wouldn’t accept it if your boss just refused to pay you one week. So you shouldn’t accept it if she denies you the paid leave to which you’re entitled as a condition of your employment. You trade your labor and your time to your employer in exchange for compensation, and your paid leave is as much a part of that as your wages and your health insurance and everything else.

It’s great if you have a cool boss who understands the pressure workers are under right now and is flexible about your work hours or even willing to give you an off-the-books “mental health day.” Favors from benevolent bosses are nice and should be appreciated, but that’s no substitute for using the paid leave you’ve earned. It belongs to you and you don’t need to justify how you use that time.

You’re not going to have the vacation of your dreams. Depending on your household, you may still have to carry the heavy burdens of caring for children or others in your home. But removing work from the equation makes a huge difference. After all, even in normal times, we spend most of our waking hours working, so you’ll feel the difference when you’re not doing that for a few days.

Unplugging as much as humanly possible is key.

Set an out-of-office reply for your email and voicemail and make clear that you won’t be checking messages while you’re off. Turn off news notifications on your phone. Don’t read, watch or listen to the news at all, in fact. Delete any apps that will interrupt you while you’re resting or tempt you to just check in with work real quick.

Since travel and adventure aren’t involved, the main goal of using vacation time right now is to de-stress. That can’t happen if the ugliness creating your anxiety is still right in your face.

And don’t worry. None of us is as important to our workplaces as we think we are.

Everything will be fine. The world and your workplace will go on without you and will be there when you return, reenergized and ready to get back to it.

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