Culturally, we’re beginning to see a shift in how we view vacations. Major companies like Virgin Group, Netflix, LinkedIn, Grubhub and even General Electric are giving their employees “unlimited” or semi-unlimited vacation time. And more entrepreneurs are showing themselves willing to take vacation days away from the office — even if that means delaying growth and success for another day.
This is a positive trend because Western culture — especially American culture — has traditionally valued the importance of hard work, and in many cases, incentivized employees to skip vacation days and spend as much time at work as possible. While this might produce a short-term boost in productivity, the dangers of not taking vacation time far outweigh these limited benefits.
Still, as an entrepreneur, you know that your responsibilities are demanding — and you probably feel like you should be spending more time at work than your employees. So, as this year’s holiday period approaches, it’s a good time to ask how much vacation time should you really be taking?
The benefits of vacation
Obviously, taking a vacation is appealing. You’ll get to see a new part of the country or the world, break away from the stresses of entrepreneurship and relax. But the benefits are more than just superficial:
Persistent stress reduction. Going on vacation helps relieve stress — obviously. But what you may not know is that those stress-relieving benefits persist for long after the vacation is over. One scientific study from the University of Calgary studied 887 lawyers working in high-stress firms.
It found that the benefits of stress relief, including reduced risk for depression and other mental health conditions, persisted for several weeks after the vacation ended.
Productivity. Taking a vacation will actually help you get more done when you get back to work — even though that seems counterintuitive. Back in 2006, Ernst & Young did a study of its employees which found that for every 10 additional hours of vacation time an employee took, his or her performance ratings increased by roughly 8 percent.
Vacation-taking employees were also much less likely to leave the firm. This meant — and means — a decrease in turnover with every vacation employees take.
Burnout prevention. As an entrepreneur, you shouldn’t underestimate the possibility of burnout. Working long hours in a high-stress environment can eventually leave you apathetic or resentful toward your work. If that happens, there may no longer be an opportunity for recovery.
Vacations give you a change of pace and a break so you can reduce the likelihood of burnout setting in.
The ideal length of a vacation
So, what’s the ideal length of time to spend in a vacation? This is a big question, but research indicates there might actually be an “ideal” amount of time to expend.
Generally, there are two schools of thought. Some people believe you should be taking single vacation days throughout the year, giving yourself mini-breaks semi-frequently. Others believe you should take your vacation time all at once, opting for an extended stay.
The truth is, you might need a little bit of both. Finnish researchers examined the highs and lows of satisfaction for 54 different vacationers to figure out just how long people should vacation. What they found is that most people experience peak happiness and satisfaction around day eight, with diminishing returns thereafter.
So, the message may be that spending only a few days won’t give you enough time to truly unwind, while spending more days might let you forget about the work you’re doing back home, so you can really relax and recharge.
Research has also shown that over weekends, when they weren’t working, men and women reported much higher levels of happiness, lower levels of stress and lower levels of physical sickness and pain. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but it does emphasize the importance of taking days off throughout the year — regardless of how you spend your other, successive vacation days.
Instead, too many entrepreneurs work through weekends and never take “regular” days off. And that’s a problem, because it leaves them vulnerable to both physical and mental health problems.
Finding the ideal balance for you
Obviously, there will be some limits to the vacation time you can take, even if you’re the one calling all the shots. The needs and availability of your family, as well as the state of your business, will dictate what you’re able to spend.
On top of that, you likely have personal preferences; so the idea of taking one, long vacation each year may seem far more appealing than using up a handful of extra days individually throughout the year.
Ultimately, it’s up to you how you break up your vacation time, but it’s important to your career, your health and your emotional well-being to take regular, if only occasional, vacation time. As soon as you’re able to delegate some of your work, postpone a few meetings, or hand over the reins to someone else temporarily, go take some time! Both you and your business will be the stronger for it.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!