The business.com community asked how to know when is the right time to take a vacation. We went looking for answers.
There’s no question that the United States has an unhealthy vacation culture. U.S. Travel Association research found that U.S. workers didn’t use, on average, 33% of their earned vacation time in 2020.
Despite numbers like these, the importance of taking time off is no secret. The Framingham Heart Study found that men who don’t take vacations are 30% more likely to have a heart attack, and women are 50% more likely.
Unfortunately, there is no secret algorithm that tells you the best time to leave your office. However, your industry, company size, and strategy all play a significant role in determining your optimal time off. Here are a few vacationing trends that can make your decision easier.
When to consider taking a vacation
During the offseason
Dayne Shuda, founder of Ghost Blog Writers, suggests that the best time to take a vacation in the business world is when other businesspeople are also taking vacations. If other workers are vacationing at the beach in the summer or traveling for family gatherings, you can afford to take some time off, too.
“The holiday season in late December is a good time,” Shuda said. “It also seems that the Fourth of July week is less busy in the U.S.”
But for hospitality and retail, the holiday season is often the busiest time of the year. Don’t be afraid to discuss with your manager which seasons are least busy, or when they prefer you to request time off.
Amid a lull
A good time to request PTO may be when your colleagues are scheduled to work. It’s also essential to ask your manager for time off early so they have time to reassign your work while you’re out.
Lisa Chu, founder of Black N Bianco, said her company takes employee vacation very seriously because employees should have a happy and balanced work life. “We put in place a very simple vacation-request policy.”
Marielle Smith, vice president of people at GoodHire, asks that employees give as much lead time as possible when requesting time off. If the vacation is a week or longer, she asks that they at least give a month’s notice.
“The best time is when other team members aren’t taking off, so it’s best to put requests in early and coordinate with others if possible,” Smith said.
In between jobs
Regardless of industry, a great time to vacation is when you don’t have to request time off or leave unfinished assignments behind. Experts say you should take at least a week off between jobs if you can afford to skip a paycheck. The Balance Careers suggests waiting six months before asking to take time off from a new job, so it might be your last chance for time off for a while.
If you are happy with your current position and don’t foresee a career shift in the near future, initiate a conversation with your supervisor about your plans.
FYI: Even companies with unlimited PTO can have blackout dates for vacation time. Always check with HR or your manager to figure out the best time to take time off.
Why it’s important to take vacations
To prevent burnout
Employee burnout is just one of many reasons we need to take a vacation from work. Smith said GoodHire is a big proponent of employees taking vacation time. But the company goes a step further and encourages staff to really shut off during that time – meaning no work emails or phone calls.
A vacation takes planning and time management, but the productivity lulls could be much worse if you don’t take some time for yourself.
“We never want our employees to feel guilty or that their job is in jeopardy if they take a vacation,” Chu said. “Happy and well-balanced employees are the most productive, efficient, and creative.”
To boost creativity
Boosts in creativity and productivity are some results of vacationing a few times a year.
“Going from staring at screens for most of the day to closing your eyes while soaking in the sun on a beach is just like pushing the recharge button,” said Christine VanDoren, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. “Studies have shown that taking a step back from a project or piece of writing allows you to reduce your own bias towards the work and develop a new perspective. Tackling problems with a new mindset leads to more creative solutions.”
Workers at every level need to use their creative side to work, so it’s just as crucial for business owners and CEOs to use their PTO as it is for hourly employees.
FYI: If you are planning a British beach vacation, here are the best value hotels by the beach.
To encourage physical health
The mind and body work so closely together that if one is unwell, the other will be too.
“Working without an extended break can make you quite unwell,” said Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love. “Stress can cause a number of physical and mental health problems, and it can also cause interpersonal problems in your marriage and with your family. Being a workaholic shouldn’t be a virtue, especially when it very often obliterates productivity as burnout hits.”
How to maximize your vacation days
We all look forward to taking vacations, and there are some great ways to maximize your vacation time. Million Mile Secrets offers some insight on making the most of your vacation days.
1. Plan ahead.
Planning your vacation brings more satisfaction than you realize. You’ll have something to look forward to, and the planning process allows you to visualize your trip. Nonstop flights may be a little more expensive, but they can save you a lot of time of actual travel. The time you get to spend at your destination makes up for the additional cost of the flight, as long as it’s within your budget.
This is especially true for entrepreneurs running a one-person show, or with only a few employees. They still need to get away and unwind, but the planning is more important.
2. Travel during the offseason.
Consider traveling during times that are not popular for your destination. If you travel at off-peak times, it can save you from long lines and delays, and possibly even score you some deals. Consider how much time you have for a specific vacation when planning your trip. If you have more time available, you might consider going to places that are more difficult to access. For example, you’d save a trip to Australia for when you have plenty of time, whereas a stateside beach trip can be relatively quick.
3. Go over a weekend.
Lifehacker recommends taking seven to 11 days of vacation per year. If you work it correctly around a weekend, you can use less actual work days for your vacation. Depending on how many vacation days you get per year dictates how many days you can actually take, but you should try to wrap your days around a weekend and holiday so you can make the most of your time off. Lifehacker’s Patrick Allan warns not to take all of your days at one time, no matter how enticing it might be. You should space out your vacation days so you can find some balance.
4. Leave the guilt behind.
Part of maximizing your vacation days means actually enjoying the days you take. If you’re constantly worried about what you’ll walk back into when you return to work, or if you feel guilty, enjoying vacation can be hard.
FYI: Paid time off (PTO) policies exist for a reason. Employers should establish and communicate a clear PTO policy to ensure employees feel comfortable using their allotted time.
“I think the guilt that coincides with taking time away from work is our society’s obsession with productivity,” said Ravi Parikh, CEO of RoverPass. “Our society often measures a person’s worth with how productive they are on a given day. This is unhealthy and unsustainable. We must remind ourselves to prioritize our mental and physical well-being and take vacations when we can and want.”
Carlyann Edwards contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.