Yes, You Need a Vacation

By Thomas MacIntosh  |  

3.6 min read

Yes, You Need a Vacation


The Old Adage

We all need a break sometimes. Even those who perpetrate the adage, “I can sleep when I’m dead,” need to rest once and a while. An Intuit TSheets report found that in 2017, Americans left almost a billion days of paid time off the table. [1] The old school manager would say, “Great! Those are committed workers. Think about what a billion extra days of work does for the economy!”

Not to burst that bubble, but this “grind it out,” attitude just does not pan out in the research. Even in the early 20th century, Henry Ford agreed that time-off was a necessity, saying: “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege. We know from our experience in changing from six to five days and back again that we can get at least as great production in five days as we can in six.”[2]

The Research

Modern research agrees. A Psychology Today article by Dr. Suzanne Degges-White summarized some of the key findings about the true cost of these extra billion days of work.

First, for every 10 hours of vacation you take, productivity improves eight percent. [3] To bring in some sophomore Economics, that means that the opportunity cost of every 10 hours of vacation an employee doesn’t take, is eight percent of lost productivity for the business.

Moving from lost productivity to something a little more serious, taking a vacation makes you less likely to die. A Framingham Heart Study started in 1948 had women fill out a survey on how often they took a vacation over a 20-year period. Women who took a vacation at least once within a six-year period or less were 800% more likely to suffer a heart attack in their life than those who took one at least once every two years. The study even controlled for factors like obesity, diabetes, smoking, and income. [4]

It isn’t just women either. A different study published in 2000 looked at more than 12,000 men in a nine-year period. What happened to those who didn’t take at least one annual vacation? A 21% higher risk of death from any cause, as well as a 32% higher likelihood of a heart attack. [5]

The response to these numbers is often a mix of a shrug and a turning of the back. “Yes, it may be bad for my health but by working this hard and not taking a vacation, I will make more money and create a better life for my kids.”

This doesn’t pan out in research either.

Work Martyrs

A 2016 U.S. Travel Association study of so-called “work martyrs,” (people who believe they can’t take a vacation because no one can do their job while they’re away, they want to show dedication, feel guilty, etc.) found they are, on average, 6% less likely to receive a bonus than people who take time off. [6]

The number of these work martyrs is growing too. 48% of Millennials believe being a work martyr is a good thing, compared to the 39% of Gen Xers and 32% of Baby Boomers who believe this. [7] This poses a serious public health issue.

Even at an empirical level, the idea of time-off makes sense. We fall asleep every night, and not because our bodies just feel like doing it, it’s a necessity. This idea carries over to vacation as well. We need time off to recharge. It is natural.

So, as we inch towards the beginning of August, (a month taken off by almost the entire country of France by the way,) maybe think about taking some of the days off. It might make your more productive, or better yet, save your life.


[1] “Are You Giving Your Employees Enough PTO? 2019 Survey.” TSheets. Accessed July 17, 2019.

[2] “The Problem of the American Work Martyr.” The Atlantic. Accessed July 17, 2019.

[3] “You Really Do “Need” a Vacation.” Psychology Today. July 15, 2018. Accessed July 17, 2019.

[4] Tugend, Alina. “Vacations Are Good for You, Medically Speaking.” The New York Times. June 07, 2008. Accessed July 17, 2019.

[5] ibid.

[6] “Time Off and Vacation Usage.” U.S. Travel Association. May 28, 2019. Accessed July 17, 2019.

[7] ibid.

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