M.D. “It’s Your Prerogative to Make Sure Employees Take Time Off”

After a vacation, Mel Borins says, employees find their work more interesting and become more efficient at their jobs, and the rate of absenteeism actually decreases.

May 29, 2004

Taking a vacation: You wouldn’t think it would be such a difficult task.

    Mel Borins frets that it has become one. The medical doctor, public speaker and author of the books "Go Away Just for the Health of It" and "An Apple a Day: A Holistic Health Primer" discusses this odd problem:

    On how time off can affect health costs:

Scientific studies show that men and women who take vacations live longer than those who do not, Borins says.

In fact, one study completed in 2000 found that men who took annual vacations were 21 percent less likely to die over a period of nine years than those who never took a vacation. Evidence also shows that physical ailments can decrease or go away entirely during vacations, and that they tend to stay away for a period after an employee returns to work.

    On employers benefiting from employee vacations:

Studies also show that employee vacations can benefit employers as well. Borins cites a 1997 medical study that found that employee burnout rates decrease significantly during vacations and that life satisfaction increases. Additional studies, he says, show that after a vacation, employees find their work more interesting and become more efficient at their jobs--and the rate of absenteeism actually decreases.

Conversely, when people don’t take the time off that they need, their health deteriorates--both emotionally and physically--often resulting in medical expenses and a larger chunk of time away from the job than if the employee had taken some preventative rest time.

On the shrinking American vacation:

There is a crisis right now, Borins says: People are taking less time off than they ever have.

According to one travel-industry study, vacation time has shrunk from an average vacation length of more than a week 25 years ago to four days last year. An informal study in 2003 by found that there was $21 billion in unused vacation time. Expedia repeated the study in 2004 and found that 35 percent of employees didn’t take all their time off because of job pressures.

Ironically, says Borins, it’s those people feeling high levels of pressure at work who really should be taking their vacations. "People really worry about losing their jobs, and many feel that if they take a vacation, they could be replaced or someone could realize that they aren’t really essential to their company," Borins says. "Sometimes there’s an attitude in the workplace that if one takes time off, he’s lazy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Taking time off has nothing to do with commitment--you actually are a better employee when you do take that time for yourself."

    On making employees feel comfortable taking time off:

Attitudes toward time off need to change, Borins says, and employers should respect the need for leisure time.

He points out that the United States is one of the only modern countries without vacation-time minimums mandated by law. In many European countries, he says, workers get five weeks of vacation, and in Canada and Japan, the laws mandate two weeks.

For a healthier and more productive workforce and society, he says, people need to be able to take care of themselves.

"When people don’t get the time off they need for themselves, they are going to get sick," he says. "I’ve seen it in my practice. Patients come in with physical complaints like headaches, neck pain and rashes, and then they go on vacation and the complaints vanish. If you care about your employees, not in a humanist sense, but in the sense of desiring faithful, enthusiastic, committed employees, it’s your prerogative to make sure employees take their time off."