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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

How to Get Over "Vacation Guilt" and Actually Enjoy Your Time Off

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Forty percent of Americans leave unused paid vacation time on the table every year. Why? People are afraid of being replaced or they’re afraid of their work piling up while they’re gone.

These fears are understandable, but most of the time, they’re not grounded in reality. They’re what psychologists like me call irrational fears. They may feel true, but generally, they’re not.

Here’s what is actually true: Taking a vacation is extremely good for you—and for your employer, too.

In a new study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, researchers found that taking time off from work can boost your productivity, engagement, and overall happiness. All very compelling reasons to clock out and savor the occasional piña colada!

But even with all the facts swinging in favor of taking that long-overdue trip, it can still be difficult, at times, to get over your “vacation guilt.” So when you feel that prickle of uneasiness creeping in, here are a couple of guilt-banishing statements to remind you that you can—and should—take some time off.

If You’re Thinking You’ll Feel Guilty

“I’d feel guilty taking my unused paid vacation time because my boss might think I’m not pulling my weight. I need to keep working to prove how valuable I am to this company.”

Reframe by Telling Yourself

“My contract provides for this vacation time. I’m not violating my contract by taking this time. I deserve it. It’s part of my salary. If I don’t take this time, I’m really short-changing myself.”

If You’re Thinking You’ll Miss Too Much Work

“I’m afraid I might lose ground on this big project if I take vacation. When I come back, I’ll have accumulated a ton of work and I’ll have millions of emails waiting for me.”

Reframe by Telling Yourself

“Taking a vacation is healthy. When I return to work, I’ll be rested and energized, which means I’ll be able to do an even better job—even if I do have some work or emails to catch up on. Besides, if there is a situation at work for which I’m absolutely needed, I can cancel my trip (especially if I’ve purchased ‘cancel for any reason’ trip coverage).

And, if I absolutely must, I can check my email every couple of days to stay on top of things. I don’t need to, but it’s an option that’s available to me.”

If You’re Thinking You Might Miss Out on a Promotion

“I’m afraid I’ll get penalized for taking too much vacation time. I’ll get passed over for a promotion in the future—I just know it.”

Reframe by Telling Yourself

“There is no reality to this fear. I scheduled this vacation well in advance and coordinated with my boss to arrange it. My manager said that this is a good time to take time off.

Plus, to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, I’ve arranged for my colleagues to cover for me while I’m away. I’ve told my clients that I’ll be away, I’ve delegated important tasks, and overall, I’ve made sure that everything will be taken care of while I’m gone.”

If You’re Thinking You Might Get Fired

“I’m afraid to take a week off because my boss might decide that I’m not dedicated to her and this company—and might even fire me.”

Reframe by Telling Yourself

“My boss knows how dedicated I am. I am a valuable asset to this company. I regularly prove my worth. I have nothing to fear.

Besides, while it’s highly unlikely that this would ever happen, say I got fired because I chose to take my vacation time. Would I really want to work for that kind of company? No! I have strengths that plenty of companies would find desirable, and I can always find another position at a company that treats me with respect.”

You would never say to your employer, “Hey, why don’t you skip paying me this week? I’m probably not worth it, anyway.” But that, in essence, is precisely what you are doing when you leave your vacation time on the table, unused. Remember that vacation time is part of your overall compensation and benefits package. It’s yours—claim it. It’s fun, and it’s deeply beneficial to your happiness and productivity.

Stop the guilt. Give yourself some time off. And when you swing back into the office—you’ll be completely on fire.