Plan For Vacation Month

Americans who plan out their vacation are happier, healthier, more creative, and are better at avoiding burnout.

At UC Davis, we celebrate Plan for Vacation Month in January to encourge  departments/units to schedule time in a January staff meeting where everyone on the team takes out a calendar together and plans their time off for the year.....making vacation "happen" is a team effort!

According to a recent report from Glassdoor, 54% of workers in the U.S. say they're unable to stop working while on vacation or don't believe they can fully unplug. This is even more evident in older professionals, with 65% of workers aged 45 and older saying they're unable to detach from work during their vacations. 

Excessive work without periods of recuperation and opportunities to engage in rewarding activities can lead to burnout or the development of mental health disorders. Our ability to respond to challenges, stay on task, and control our emotions and behaviors can be replenished with rest. We need the positive emotions we naturally feel from taking even brief vacations and engaging in fun and meaningful activities.

The Importance of Actively Encouraging Vacation

In a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)  talent managers and human resource professionals overwhelmingly agree that fully utilizing vacation leave drives higher employee performance and productivity, boosts organizational morale, contributes to employee wellness and results in higher employee retention. 

However, there is a critical disconnect:

  • 65% of Americans say they either hear nothing, negative, or mixed messages about vacation.
  • 80% report that they would be more likely to use more of their paid time off if their bosses encouraged them to do so. 

When it comes to taking time off, the boss is the single-most important influencer—even more important than employees’ own families.

Benefits of Vacation

Vacation Increases Mindfulness

Going on vacation makes you feel more present and stimulated. “When we travel we are usually breaking our normal routine,” says Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds. That means we can’t operate on autopilot. “That decreased familiarity is an opportunity for most people to be more fully present, to really wake up,” 

Vacation Improves Heart Health

Taking regular vacations could help reduce the risk for metabolic syndrome—a cluster of health issues including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat and abnormal cholesterol levels. All of these symptoms raise the risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. In one study, researchers found that those who vacationed more frequently were less likely to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. Notably, the risk went down by a quarter with each additional vacation taken. 

Vacation Time Reduces Stress

A study released by the American Psychological Association concluded that time off helps to reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments that they associate with anxiety.  Another scientific report highlights that spending at least 120 minutes a week in natural environments (such as parks, woodlands and beaches) is associated with good health and well-being. 

Vacation Time Boosts Brainpower

Taking time off improves the capacity to learn. When your brain is completely relaxed, it consolidates knowledge and brainpower. The ‘aha’ moment comes when you’re in a relaxed state of mind, that's why you have your best ideas on a walk, in the shower or on vacation.  Adam Galinsky, professor and chair of the management division at Columbia Business School, has conducted numerous studies drawing a link between travel and creativity. “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms". 

Vacation Time Improves Sleep

Restless nights are a common complaint—often stemming from the fact that we have too much on our minds. Researchers say that time off from work can help interrupt the habits that disrupt sleep, like working late into the night or checking your cell phone before bed.

On-site masseuse. Ping-pong tables. Nap pods. Free lunch. Free gym. Sponsored happy hours. The list of perks companies are introducing seems one of never-ending length and creativity. But one of the biggest perks a company can offer is already part of the benefits package. Paid vacation time is essential to employee recruitment, retention, engagement, and performance. Vacation ranks just behind healthcare plans as the most important benefit.

Tips to Optimize the Benefits of Vacation and Travel

  1. Being in nature boosts your immune function. Those who spend time around trees and plants have lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rates, higher concentrations of disease fighting white blood cells and lower blood pressure. Check out Shinrin Yoko, or, the art of Japanese Forest Bathing
  2. Have active holidays.  Activities help to divert attention from the brain and give you another focus. If you are the type of person who can't sit at the beach and NOT unplug and think about work--engage in activities to better engage your mind and be present in your you actually experience a vacation.....
  3. Remaining plugged-in significantly diminishes the benefits of vacation. Find a coworker to entrust as a work emergency contact—a text contact perhaps (so you don’t have to go on email) so you know that chaos is not breaking loose in your absence, and everything else can wait or should be dealt with by others.
  4. Plan your vacation well in advance — you will be more likely to save money, actually take the trip, and relish the joy of planning and anticipation (although we recommend making sure you can cancel easily for now!). Additionally you can plan around busy times, plan for delegation of responsibilities, and share your vacation dreams with your coworkers. Research from psychology suggests that planning a future trip is a great strategy for beating the holiday and COVID blues.
  5. Favorite Travel Planning Tools: 
  • Use the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mobile Passport Control. The Global Entry program offers some similar benefits but costs $100, requires an in-person interview and currently has an application backlog of up to 11 months; the Mobile Passport Control app is free and available to use at 33 U.S. international airports without any wait time.
  • Sherpa: helps travelers understand travel restrictions and identification needs based on where they live and where they want to go. 
  • Rome2Rio: best travel planning tool for finding out how to get from one place to another, shows the options from planes to trains and buses to taxis, along with the estimated cost and time the trip will take.
  • Google Flights now allows you to track prices between a pair of cities — departure and destination — and click on “any dates” to have the platform monitor fares for the lowest prices over the next six months.
  • Google's Explore tool identifies destinations within a few hours’ drive. Clicking on a road-trip destination brings up attractions, hotels and directions there.
  • Travel 101: Favorite Hacks,Tips and How-Tos:  Handy New York Times guide 
  • aims to make it easier for L.G.B.T.Q. travelers to find welcoming accommodations. It has introduced a partner training program for hotels on its platform on the challenges L.G.B.T.Q. travelers face. The free program, known as Proud Hospitality, has certified more than 10,000 properties in 95 countries and territories. Certification includes a digital Travel Proud badge on its listing.


Supervisor/Team Vacation Toolkit

  • Read "The High Price of Silence: Analyzing the Business Implications of an Under-Vacationed Workforce"
  • Read How to Manage Your Team's Vacation Requests
  • Schedule a meeting, preferably in January:  "Let's figure out how we can support each other’s needs for renewal and wellness and avoid anybody feeling resentful."  If everyone feels that they’re solving the problems jointly as a team – and that the team will help ensure they get their time off, too – you’ll usually find people willing to step up to make things work.
  • Review the UC policy for Absence from Work, vacation starts on page 12
  • Let your staff know at least a week ahead of time and encourage them to:
    • Check how much vacation time they have on UC Path.
    • Examine busy work times and avoid planned leave during this time.
    • Check school and work calendars of vacation partners.
    • Look into specific places they want to visit and determine the best time of year to visit. 
  • Make a "Dream Board"  (a dry erase board where people can write/draw their travel/vacation dreams.)
  • Depending on your team size, either collect requests ahead of time or have your meeting with a big calendar and make a strategic plan together.
  • Scheduling will likely not be made on one day — readdress as necessary.

This activity is a tangible and proactive way to manage your upcoming year and signal to your employees that their well-being is important to you. Supervisors and managers are encouraged to have a mindset that each member of your staff will be absent up to four weeks (generally) a year using their earned vacation and sick time. Making this reality part of your strategic plan will ensure coverage, increase efficiency and demonstrate that the well-being of your staff is important to you.

How to Take Vacation when the Idea Itself Stresses You Out

Prep Your Workload

The benefit of having a set vacation date is it provides that hard deadline that some of us find helpful in getting our work done.  Many people don't like having work "hanging" while on vacation so use the opportunity to motivate yourself to tie up loose ends.  Identify and strategize around your, or your unit's natural work cycle (the ebb and flow of workload based upon outside factors and business strategy) utilizing the time of year when deadlines and workload are not as demanding as other times.  Plan as a team to ensure coverage.

Identify Your Backup

Consider which of your coworkers can best hold down the fort while you’re away and ask if they’re willing to be your official backup contact. See this person as your "gatekeeper" who can identify things they can take over, identify situations where they ask others to be patient, or contact you as a last resort if there is something pressing that only you are able to manage from afar.  Put your ability to "log off"  in their hands and don't forget to return the favor.  Vacation is a mutually beneficial endeavor for all team members..

Set An Effective Out of Office (OOO) Message

To feel more comfortable not checking your email, include this key information: the date you’ll return, whether you’ll have access to email (if possible, just say that you won’t!), and whom to contact in your absence. Make it fun by sharing where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing. If people can imagine you on a real vacation, they may be less likely to interrupt you.  It also helps us normalize and cultivate the importance of taking vacations into our culture of well-being.

Prepare for a Positive Return

Before you leave for your time off, make a list of helpful notes and priorities for your first day back and consider strategizing a "soft" return by adding a day to your OOO message and working those priorities rather than reacting to whatever/whoever gets you first. At the very least, try to keep an open schedule with minimal meetings the day you return.  Consider tacking an additional vacation day (or two if you suspect jet lag) on at the end to get your home-life in order (piles of laundry?) before heading physically and mentally to your accumulated work pile of responsibilities.

 “It’s a funny thing about coming home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You realize what has changed is you.”  -- F. Scott Fitzgerald