The Case for Taking a Break

| by Staci Barfield

Recently I’ve had multiple conversations (some that included tears) with people who are feeling burnt-out, exhausted, and pulled in lots of different directions. This has long been the case with nonprofit employees, who are generally expected to do more with less – less staff, less technology, less benefits, etc. However, the events of 2020 have introduced challenges many of us could never have anticipated.

Budget cuts are resulting in workforce reductions. Programs are more critical, have had to quickly adapt to the new reality, or are impossible to execute. Essential workers are potentially endangering their health. Parents are juggling working from home with overseeing their children’s online school activities. On top of it all, emotions are running high as infection rates, racial inequities, violence, unemployment, and impending elections fill our social media feeds and television channels.

Sounds like we, collectively, need a vacation. So why are so many people – especially those working in the nonprofit sector – resistant to taking time off? In fact, not only are we not vacationing, a study by Harvard and NYU researchers shows that the average pandemic workday is 48 minutes longer than before.

It’s widely known that the benefits of vacation include decreased stress and anxiety, lessened risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, and improved sleep quality. Taking time away from work can also improve your memory, make you more focused and productive, improve family relationships, help you lose weight, and enhance your overall sense of well-being.

Writer and businesswoman Arianna Huffington noted, “When we do take care of ourselves, we see benefits to our physical and mental health, performance and productivity. When we don’t, we pay a price: innovation, creativity, resilience, empathy, decision-making and team building are the first to disappear when we are burned out and depleted.”

We all need time to recharge. And not taking time off may be hurting your career more than helping it. Studies by Project: Time Off showed that those who neglected to utilize vacation time were 23-27% less likely to receive a promotion and 78-84% less likely to receive a raise or bonus as compared to those who did take advantage of time off. Additionally, the messages you are unconsciously sending when you don’t take a break may manifest as:

  • “I don’t trust you to keep the boat afloat.”
  • “You, too, should not be taking time off.”
  • “We are less important than those we serve.”

Let’s face it: your absence for a day, a week, or even a month is unlikely to bring your organization’s work to a screeching halt. And if it will, that indicates your focus should be on cross-training and succession planning. This article from SHRM shares good information on the importance of taking time off during COVID-19, including the negative influence not doing so has on your organization’s culture.

How you use your time off may look different this year. Many are opting for a staycation – vacationing at or from home – rather than extended or distant travel. Day trips, weekend getaways, camping, and RV travel have become common alternatives. Vacationing at home gives an opportunity for you to complete that house improvement project you’ve been delaying, read a book for fun, learn a new skill, spend more time outside, try new recipes, or enjoy activities with your family.

Whatever kind off vacation you are comfortable with, it is important to fully disconnect from the workplace. That means no email, no work calls, no checking in. Otherwise, the benefits of the time off are negated because you really are working, just maybe not as much.

You work hard. You do good things for the community. You deserve time off. Take it.

Still don’t feel like you can take time off but know you need to practice self-care? Check out this blog post from Beth Briggs.

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