By David L. Taylor, MSN, RN, CNOR
Nurses’ jobs are hard. In today’s health care industry nurses are taking on more responsibilities and doing multiple jobs due to staffing shortages experienced throughout the country. In 2017, Kronos conducted a survey and found that nursing fatigue was a pervasive problem. They found that 98 percent reported their work is physically and mentally demanding and 85 percent find it difficult to balance body, mind and spirit. Sixty-three percent of respondents reported the work they are required to do is causing burnout. Causes at the top of the list for burnout are excessive workloads and the inability to take a break or eat during their shift. This makes it nearly impossible to refresh so they can process the entire scope of care.1
Americans are working harder and longer than ever before and there are no indications that we are slowing down. Between the 1970s and 2000, American workers took approximately 20 days of vacation each year. By 2015 the average dropped to 16 days and 55 percent of them are leaving about 658 million vacation days unused that could have been used for activities other than work. In 2015 it was estimated that 222 million vacation days were forfeited and could not be rolled over into employees’ accounts.2
Research conducted by Alamo Rent A Car looked into the work habits of Americans’ while on vacation and upon returning to work. In the 2014 survey, 40 percent of American workers who received paid time off as a benefit did not use all of their available days off. Forty-seven percent cite being too busy, and 19 percent left five or more days as unused. Millennials are most guilty for not using their vacation time. Younger workers are finding it even more difficult to leave work back at the office. Of the Millennials polled, 34 percent reported they worked every day while on vacation. Surprisingly, the survey found that even though they worked while on vacation, they felt less productive upon returning to the office and the most common response was that they felt guilty for taking time off.3
This idea that we cannot unplug when we should be resting, relaxing and rejuvenating is not only detrimental to one’s health, but it creates a huge liability for companies’ bottom lines. Americans are losing $52.4 billion a year because they are not taking paid time off (PTO), burdening U.S. companies with $224 billion of unused vacation time which grew by more than $65 billion in 2014.4
In 2015, the U.S. travel and tourism industry generated $2.1 trillion in revenue, creating over 15 million jobs and more than $231 billion in wages. Forgoing vacation is equal to about $223 billion in lost spending, that could otherwise be used to support businesses, create jobs and move our economy forward.1 According to Project: Time Off, research shows that if we took one additional vacation day, the U.S. economy would see a $73 billion-dollar benefit.5
The 40-hour workweek has become the standard measure for full-time employment. However, according to Gallup the 40-hour workweek is actually longer, averaging 47 hours logged each week.6 Europe however, logs much less. France, Germany and Italy log an average only, 28, 26 and 33 hours respectively.7
The work all the time attitude and the stressors of our work lives can have a significant health risks such as impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory and heart disease. Those working 11 hours a day or longer are at increased risk of heart disease, the number one leading cause of death in America, by as much as 67 percent. In addition, there is an increasing likelihood of experiencing a major depressive episode. This lack of time away from work can have significant negative effects on not only our physical health but our emotional health as well and may lead to feelings of resentment, and we are more likely to make mistakes.8-11
We never seem to hit the pause button. We eat at our desks, check emails when we are in bed, take calls when we should be spending time with our family and friends, yet according to Gallup, the hot topic among 40 percent of full-time workers logging more than 50 hours a work is – work life balance. So, why are we not practicing what we preach? That is a hard question to answer, but some companies are mandating that employees take time off and are even paying them if they disconnect and do not work while away from the office.12 In some case, these companies are offering huge cash incentives to not work.
So, what does the perfect vacation look like? According to a University of Tampere in Finland the ideal length of a vacation is eight days, allowing vacationers the right amount of time to improve overall happiness. The eight-day holiday seems to be the perfect amount of time to rest, relax and rejuvenate without creating boredom and without keeping you away from the office too long only to find yourself in mountains of work when you return.
Everyone needs time away from work. Whether it be a vacation to relax, sick time to recover from an illness or time away to manage unexpected emergencies. Taking time has been proven to have a profound effect on employees’ creativity, improving their engagement, loyalty and productivity.13-14 Preventing burnout and boosting one’s happiness by taking time off to rebalance is essential. Reinventing the work-life-balance into work-life-inspiration will help you better understand that certain elements of your life should never be sacrificed for more time in the office.15 In an article published in American Mobile one of the recommendations to avoid nurse burnout was to take a vacation and get away from the working environment and let yourself recharge.16 To refresh one’s soul is a choice. Each nurse is vital to our profession, what you do is important to the health of our nation and that is why it is so important to take care of yourself first.
David L. Taylor, MSN, RN, CNOR, is an independent hospital and ambulatory surgery center consultant and the principal of Resolute Advisory Group LLC, in San Antonio, Texas. He has no declared affiliation that could be perceived as posing a potential conflict of interest in the publication of this article.
1. Kronos survey finds that nurses love what they do though fatigue is a pervasive problem; https://www.kronos.com/about-us/newsroom/kronos-survey-finds-nurses-love-what-they-do-though-fatigue-pervasive-problem; Accessed April 18, 2018.
2. By skipping your vacation, you’re hurting America; https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-06-17/study-unused-vacation-days-drag-on-economy; Accessed April 18, 2018.
3. New Survey Reports 4 in 10 Americans Leave Paid Vacation Days on the Table; https://www.alamo.com/en_US/car-rental/scenic-route/family-travel/unused-vacation-days.html; Accessed April 18, 2018.
4. The Hidden Costs of Unused Leave; https://www.projecttimeoff.com/research/hidden-costs-unused-leave; Accessed April 18, 2018.
5. $224 billion tied up in accumulated vacation time across private sector. Business success and employee performance at risk when Americans forgo vacation; https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/224-billion-tied-up-in-accumulated-vacation-time-across-private-sector-300045551.html; Accessed April 18, 2018.
6. The “40-Hour Workweek Is Actually Longer – by Seven Hours; http://news.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-longer-seven-hours.aspx; Accessed April 18, 2018.
7. Shorter workweeks are catching on in Europe – American not so much?; https://qz.com/699166/shorter-workweeks-are-catching-on-in-europe-america-not-so-much/; Accessed April 18, 2018.
8. Working Long Hours ‘Raises Heart Attack Risk;’ http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1104/11040501; Accessed April 18, 2018.
9. Revealed: What happens to your physical and mental health if you don’t take enough holiday (take note the 56% of Americans who didn’t go on vacation last year; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3226679/What-happens-physical-mental-health-don-t-holiday-note-56-Americans-didn-t-vacation-year.html; Accessed April 18, 2018.
10. This is what 365 days without a vacation does to your health; https://qz.com/485226/this-is-what-365-days-without-a-vacation-does-to-your-health/; Accessed April 18, 2018.
11. The top 10 leading causes of death in the United States; https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/282929.php; Accessed April 18, 2018.
12. Why some CEOs are ordering employees to take vacation; http://fortune.com/2015/12/15/vacation-packages-productivity-management/; Accessed April 18, 2018.
13. How your time-off policy can cut costs and improve productivity; https://www.cio.com/article/2866108/time-management-productivity/how-your-time-off-policy-can-cut-costs-and-improve-productivity.html; Accessed April 18, 2018.
14. Vacation from work: A ‘ticket to creativity’? The effects of recreational travel on cognitive flexibility and originality; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261517714000685; Accessed April 18, 2018.
15. 9 ways Europeans have nailed the work/life balance; https://www.mydomaine.com/european-work-life-balance; Accessed April 18, 2018 .
16. 8 Ways to avoid nurse burnout; https://www.americanmobile.com/nursezone/nursing-news/8-ways-to-avoid-nurse-burnout/; Access April 18, 2018.