Not taking vacation can kill you

Sep 26, 2011 by

The last time I was on vacation was late July in 2010. That makes 1 year, 1 month and 25 days (or 420 total days, but who’s counting?) since I had real, restful time off of work. And to be honest, since it was a family vacation it wasn’t quite as stress-free or quiet as I would prefer. Maybe it doesn’t sound that bad to you, but I tell you what: its killing me.

I’m about as burned out and exhausted as I can possibly be right now. And so are lots of other Americans. Only about three quarters of us get a paid vacation each year and most people don’t even take the full amount they are given. Of course, then there are the part-time employees and those at low wage jobs that don’t even get that time. Most of us that work at nonprofits are lucky in comparison; we tend to get more vacation time than those who work in for-profit companies. However, many nonprofit employees I know don’t even take the vacation time given to them despite the comparative luxury of having it paid by their employer. They seem to feel like its a good thing to martyr themselves on the altar of work.

But does it even matter beyond my whining? Yes, it absolutely does – especially for our health as nonprofit employees and as workers in general.

According to this article, Sarah Speck, a cardiologist at Seattle’s Swedish hospital, concluded that the impact of workplace stress is “the new tobacco,” and that vacations are an important way to reduce stress and burnout. The new tobacco? As in: kills you with great efficiency? That is scary as hell.

The great thing is that this is so easy to resolve! Just take your vacation, get away from work completely – do not, repeat do not bring your laptop, blackberry or whatever with you – and you’ll start to feel better almost immediately. When we all get back from our vacations, we can be better, more thoughtful and more effective nonprofit employees and continue to save the world. Are you with me?

Flickr photo courtesy of onkel_wart

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  • During these economic times, I think nonprofit professionals are stretched too thin.  This means they have too much on their plate and are often wearing multiple hats and fulfilling multiple roles within the organization, as a result of staff cuts.  For instance, as the executive director of a nonprofit, I am also serving as the janitor, since I had to relieve our custodial services as part of budget cuts.  So, if I go on vacation, someone else who is stretched thin has to take on all my duties, too.  I don’t like passing that burden on to my team members, so for me, that is a barrier to taking vacation.  However, I agree its necessary for our own wellbeing… perhaps I will start with a small step and take an afternoon off!

    • Sarah – I definitely hear where you’re coming from. Nonprofits are stretched thin and it can seem unfair to pass your work onto others. But I would agree that you burden your staff with so much more if you don’t take a vacation. What if you get really sick due to overwork and stress and are then out of the office (without preparation) for a week? That would be much more difficult than a planned temporary transfer of your work.

      I’m heading out on vacation on Wednesday and I’ve been mentally prepping everyone for a few weeks by having meetings with them to go over key tasks that need to be done and as well as sending everyone any relevant documents, emails, etc. Despite have a major federal grant project and two other major projects on my plate right now (plus all the other stuff), at this point I’m nearly obsolete and just need to put up my out of office when I leave tomorrow night.

      Yes – by all means take an afternoon off…and then take a week! 🙂