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The Value of Vacation

Many of us find it hard to break away from work. Even when we take a vacation, we are attached to our iPhones, laptops and conference call lines. It means that the time away is really only time away from the office, not the work.

Our inability to break away from work is only getting worse. A new study by Project: Time Off, featured in July’s issue of Harvard Business Review, found that Americans took 20.3 days of vacation in 2000, but that number fell to 16.2 days of vacation in 2015. The study also found that for the first time in recorded history, more than half of Americans (55%) left vacation days unused. That unused vacation time adds up to 658 million unused days per year.

Although we aren’t taking vacation, data shows that we should because it can have a strong positive impact on our well-being and performance. A 2014 study conducted by Oxford Economics found that 48 percent of managers viewed vacation time as a positive for employee productivity, and both managers and employees saw the positive benefits of vacation on mental and physical health, increased focus, decreased stress, and most importantly, a positive impact on their family life. Think about those 658 million unused vacation days as 658 million fewer days with family and friends. 

One thought as to why Americans do not take vacation is because we incorrectly see it as being unproductive time. The data show that isn’t true. As an example, Switzerland has ranked number 1 on the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index for five years in a row, and it offers 28 days of federally mandated paid vacation time. The U.S., by comparison, is ranked 3rd on productivity.

What matters most – for the well-being of our colleagues and for the performance of our companies – is that we begin to embrace time away from work and understand its value.

As a CEO, I ask a lot of my colleagues – and I need them to be well-rested and full of energy for their jobs. That’s why I think vacation is so important.

I must admit, I have not always been the best role model for taking my vacation days, but I'm starting to see the light. For the first time that I can remember, I will be taking a real two-week vacation with my family. I will be travelling to a destination with very limited connectivity, which many of you know will be a challenge for me; but I recognize the importance of this down time. It will be time to reconnect with my wife and daughters, and disconnect from work. I am sure it will give me more energy and a fresh perspective when I return.

I am asking all of my colleagues at Allergan and challenging my CEO counterparts to follow my lead. If you have vacation planned, please take it. If you haven’t planned a vacation and have unused vacation days, please use them. Take a break, power down the devices and recharge your life.

I won’t be checking email, but I may occasionally post vacation photos. If you want to see them, follow me on Twitter @brentlsaunders.