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“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it…including you.” –Anne Lamott

According to Greg Mckeown, bestselling author and winner of the Young Global Leader Award 2012, many driven leaders fall into a predictable pattern of workplace success:

  1. Work hard
  2. Get recognized (and rewarded with more work or promotion)
  3. Redouble their efforts—squeezing more work into the margins of life
  4. Burnout and exhaustion set in
  5. Unless something changes, the result is a ceiling on your long-term potential

Many leaders fall into the trap of believing that working more hours always means greater success at work, but research contradicts this thinking.

The Big Idea—People that sustain high-performance over the long haul establish an optimal rhythm between work and rest.

In fact, studies show that taking an adequate number of vacation days is not only likely to improve your personal life, but statistically raises your chance of getting a raise or bonus at work by about 30%. Organizations also benefit from a vacation supportive culture since research shows that employees who take vacations have dramatic boosts in job satisfaction, productivity, and how they view their employer.

Leverage the power of anticipation

I’ve always been a big fan of vacations. In fact, for many years, my wife and I planned regular trips to remote scuba diving destinations.

But there was one season of my life where I went about three years without planning any significant time away.

I kept getting big projects and new teams to lead at work—and it was exhilarating—until it wasn’t.

One day I wondered why I felt so burned out, dissatisfied, and pessimistic. Then it dawned on me that I hadn’t had a real vacation in several years. The workplace wins had not produced enough lasting satisfaction to keep me fueled.

Not long after, my wife and I planned a trip we had been thinking about for years—10 days sleeping on a boat and diving different islands in the Maldives.

Then something interesting happened—as soon as we booked our tickets, I felt like I could endure anything.

Even though we still had months before the trip, I was filled with a new zest for life.

And it was the trip of a lifetime—We got to dive with giant whale sharks and graceful manta rays. In between dives we dangled our legs from the roof of our 16-passenger boat just staring at postcard-perfect islands and the undulating calm turquoise seas. We ended the trip with a barbecue on a deserted island no bigger than a football field, with candles littered across the sand at night.

We often think of the actual time on vacation as the reward, but several studies reinforce the importance and role of anticipation in vacation planning.

One interesting study in American Psychological Society (2006) showed that people who simply thought about their favorite movie boosted their endorphins by 27 percent.

Neuroscience shows us that having something on the calendar or anticipating future rewards can light up the same pleasure centers in our brains as the actual event itself.

The bottom line—always have something on your calendar to look forward to. It’s a proven performance enhancer.

Is work getting in the way of your success?

In a 2016 Harvard Business Review article entitled, The Data-Driven Case for Vacation, researcher Shawn Achor shares the results from a large study analyzing the effects of vacations.

In this article he sought to answer the question—Are people actually more productive and successful when they take fewer vacation days, or can work actually get in the way of success?

One of the most interesting findings from the study was that people who took less than 10 vacation days per year had a 34.6% chance of receiving a raise or bonus in the next three years, while those that took 10+ days had a 65.4% chance.

In short, taking more than 10 days of vacation each year can improve your odds of a raise or bonus by 30%.

Taking more vacation time is not only good for lowering your stress and improving your happiness at home—but also results in greater success at work.

The article also revealed that while 95% of people believe that taking vacation time is important, 55% of Americans leave vacation days unused.

Keep in mind that these are paid days off!

So—while nearly everyone can agree that vacations are important—they often still don’t prioritize them.

Employee vacations also benefit companies

In another large study conducted by the American Psychological Association (The Work & Well-Being study 2018), employees who took vacations reported:

  • 68% improved mood
  • 57% less stress
  • 57% more motivation
  • 55% better work quality
  • 80% said they felt more valued by their employer (vs. 37% who didn’t take vacations)
  • 88% said they were satisfied with their job (vs. 50% who didn’t take vacations)
  • 88% said their employers treated them fairly (vs. 47% for those who didn’t take vacations)
  • 81% said they would recommend their workplace as a good place to work (vs. 39% who did not take vacations

One important conclusion from this study is that organizations also benefit from robust vacation cultures since their employees are apparently more likely to view their employer more favorably when they return from vacation!

For the organization, this is likely to result in less absences and turnover, improved productivity, better work products, less employee grievances (liability), and improved recruitment. It should be clear that all of these things have a large impact on profit.

In summary, many leaders and organizations support work martyrdom, thinking that more hours result in greater success—but the data doesn’t support that conclusion.

One last big caveat—Taking a great vacation still cannot compensate for an entire year of 60-hour work weeks. Next week we are going to talk about sustainable weekly work practices and daily rest intervals to sustain high performance in between your vacations.

Turn information into action

  1. Always have something on the calendar. If you don’t have anything on the calendar, book something this week. Remember, anticipation is a performance booster.
  2. Here is how to ensure your vacation actually recharges you. Research also shows that only certain types of vacations are restorative. If you plan ahead, have social connections on the trip, go far away from work, and feel safe—you are 94% more likely to return with renewed energy and optimism.
  3. Model and teach your team (and your kids) about the balance between hard work and rest. Encouraging your employees or kids to have work-life balance is one thing, but the first law of leadership (in family or work) is that people do what people see, not what they say. You need to develop a company and family culture that not only preaches, but models and rewards this behavior, in order for it to be effective.

Have a great weekend!


*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Suggested Resources

  1. The Data-Driven Case for Vacation—Harvard Business Review July 2016
  2. American Psychological Association Work & Well-Being Study 2018



Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified in organizational psychology. He is also certified in personal and executive coaching. Parker's personal mission is to share science-based principles of psychology and timeless spiritual practices, to help people improve the way they lead themselves, their families, and their organizations. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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