Why Fear Stops Many Americans From Taking a Vacation and What You Can Do About It

Taking time off can make you a healthier, happier, and more productive business person.

We may complain all the time that we need a vacation, but when it comes to actually taking off time, we tend to get cold feet.

A recent survey found that employees who receive paid vacation take only about half of those days in a given year. The percentage of people who don't take all their vacation days continues to rise, and has jumped from 42 percent in 2013 to 54 percent in 2016, according to one study.

You have earned some downtime and you are not doing yourself (or your business) any favors by not taking it. So why do we take the time to take time off?


The excuse many workers give for skipping vacation days is that they fear getting behind on their work when they return, they fear no one else can do their work like they can while they're out, and they fear being disconnected from work for any length of time.

I plead guilty to this. I know that I function better after I take regular breaks, but so often the thought of thousands of unread e-mails waiting for me is more stressful than work itself. Additionally, I wasn't as good at delegating work and trusting that the business could function without me.

But you need to give yourself permission to take downtime. Think of time off as a business investment. Taking adequate downtime can make you healthier and more productive. It can even sharpen your business skill by helping you create solutions to problems in your business or come up with new ideas to offer your customers in a shorter period of time.

If you have an unhealthy habit of not taking vacations, it's time to address the fear factors that keep you from taking downtime. Here are six tips to help you let go:

1. Keep time off short, at first.

Taking off a lot of time at once may feel too daunting. Instead, begin with a three-day vacation and see how you do, maybe extending the weekend.

Then increase to a week or longer. Try to choose dates when work tends to be the slowest, or right after the completion of a big project when you are more motivated to tap into vacation time and not be checking emails, or getting as many calls.

2. Enlist a vacation back-up buddy or team.

You will be able to relax better knowing someone can fill in for you. Choose a colleague. or even several, who can cover for you. (And return the favor when they need to take off time.)

Hold a pre-vacation meeting to go over any important projects, to-do lists, share any important files, and other matters. Another approach is to make this an opportunity to enlist specific team members to help grow their skills.

3. Communicate with clients.

Send out an e-mail to your clients announcing that you will be out for a certain amount of time and direct them to your back-up crew for assistance.

4. Resist checking your phone or computer.

Set up an automatic reply on your e-mail that provide contact information that are assisting you while you are gone. If you happen to have a personal phone and business phone, leave the business phone at home. That way you won't be tempted to check it.

5. Set strict check-in times if you can't unplug completely.

It can tough, if not impossible, to refrain from all business communication--but make an effort to set up strict check-in times if you are going to check messages. I'll clear out emails once a day so they aren't waiting for me when we get back, but I resist replying to messages.

Let your business contacts know they can contact you for emergencies. Otherwise, everything can wait.

6. Clean your office before you leave.

This will help you provide transition between work and vacation, it will eliminate the stress of returning to a messy desk and piles of paperwork. Maybe take a day off prior to your vacation to ensure you are caught up so that leaving doesn't feel as difficult.

Keep in mind that this can be a gradual process. It took me many years to truly enjoy my vacations. I took phone calls from the office in the middle of Disney World, and checked emails at any port I could find Internet access during cruises.

I eventually learned that it gave permission for everyone to contact me whenever I was away. Once I corrected this habit, I was better able to enjoy my time off with my family. I discovered that being away from business is just as important as being there.

This post was originally published on Inc.com on November 15, 2017.