As summer winds down, back-to-school-sale signs go up and the days start getting shorter, you might be feeling a few pangs of regret. Should you have spent more time at the beach or on the road?
You may have told yourself that you’ve done your career some good by foregoing past vacations and keeping your nose to the grindstone. But if you look at the data, that’s not so clear. In fact, if you really want to take care of your career—and your health—there’s mounting evidence that you should stop what you’re doing (after you finish this story) and plan your next vacation. Now.
More than half of Americans leave paid vacation time on the table—quite literally donating an estimated $61 billion in free labor to their corporations, according to a new study by Project: Time Off, a group that studies Americans’ vacation habits. Not only is this behavior completely crazy, it’s dangerous.
A growing body of research shows that overwork is extremely hazardous to your health. A massive study published last year found that employees who worked long hours had a higher likelihood of strokes and heart disease. A separate study found that workaholics were more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder, ADHD or obsessive compulsive behavior. (It’s a correlation, not a causation, but still.)
Maybe you’d be willing to assume these risks in order to ensure you get ahead in your career. But if that’s your logic, you should know that plenty of other research shows working more hours is negatively correlated with getting raises and bonuses. For example, according to Project: Time Off, people who take all of their vacation time have a 6.5 percent higher chance of getting a promotion or a raise than workers who leave more than 11 days on the table. And when accounting firm EY studied this issue internally, it found that for each 10 hours of vacation workers took, performance reviews increased by 8 percent.
Again, this could be more correlation than causation. It’s possible that workers who are already on solid ground in the office feel more comfortable taking time off. But there’s no evidence that overwork is a good life or career strategy—and there’s plenty suggesting it’s a terrible idea.
Still, study after study shows that millennials are over-focused on work, and are resistant to taking time off. One study found one in four actually work every single day while on vacation. Why? Another study offers a clue: It found many who vacation dread their first day back at work and the email pile-up that awaits them.
The solution? Use your vacation time, but be strategic, too: A successful vacation is a well-planned vacation. Not only does that mean making sure you don’t overspend, but also that you’ve got a solid plan in place for covering your work (and inbound emails) while you’re gone—which will allow you to truly disconnect from your work phone and reconnect with people you care about on vacation. That’s critical to refreshing both your mind and body, and ensuring you and your career enjoy the benefits of a vacation well spent.