It is no secret that the typical American is working long hours with little respite compared to workers in other developed countries. Full-time employees report an average work week of 47 hours and all Americans work an average of 34.4 hours a week, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). This is longer than the work week of nations like the United Kingdom (32.25), Austria (31.33), Canada (32.77), and Germany (26.37).
Despite the long hours worked, Americans are also terrible at taking vacation. In the US, employers are not required to offer any paid time off and employees, on average, receive only 10 to 15 annual vacation days (and six federal holidays). Ironically, the majority of American workers don’t even use all of their vacation time! Companies in the European Union are required by law to offer at least four weeks of paid vacation to employees (not including holidays), and European workers tend to use all of their vacation days.
Why does the US worker not take vacation? The first reason stated is the enormous amount of work that piles up while on vacation, followed by the reasoning that no one else can do their job as well. Affordability is also an issue. People are also worried that they will be perceived as a slacker or they are more likely to lose their job if they take a vacation. Even when Americans do take a vacation, 61% work while they’re out of the office, and the majority of Americans (53%) say they’re overworked and burnt out. In 2015, nearly 25% of American adults reported that they were under “extreme stress,” up from 18% in 2014.
For a healthy lifestyle, time off from work is essential. Though immersing yourself in life outside of work is easier said than done when the email app on your phone is continually chiming and you have numerous projects that are overdue, taking a break will allow you to recharge, refocus and ultimately, increase your productivity and creativity.
Use these tips to be more mindful about living a more balanced life:
Write down your top five priorities that don’t have anything to do with work. These priorities are personal and could be anything from spending quality time with your family, to reading two books a month, to working on your tennis swing, or learning to surf. Don’t complicate your priorities or think that they have to be time-consuming. Keep your list of priorities somewhere prominent so that you’re perpetually reminded of your goals.
Schedule at least one thing to look forward to each day, and then go and do it! Whether it’s a round of golf, an activity with kids/grandkids, beer with a friend, or a walk with your spouse, be fully present. That means turn off your phone and welcome the joy of being with people and doing things you like.
Say “no.” Yes, it’s okay to say no sometimes to the external tasks from work that require your time after working hours or on the weekend. Say yes to the tasks that legitimately interest or inspire you. And, part of saying “no” is setting boundaries. When you are on vacation, set your “out of office” auto reply and don’t allow interruptions. That extends to when you’re with family or friends or taking time for yourself, don’t answer the phone or check your work.
Take a long, hard look at your habits. The basic necessities of good nutrition, enough sleep, and the right exercise are fundamental to a healthy lifestyle. If you’re having a hard time objectively evaluating your daily activities, consider enlisting a life or wellness coach who can help you create positive change and better balance.
Exercise. When faced with a busy schedule, exercise is one of the first things to get cut, but it should really be the mainstay—the keystone to a productive, invigorated life. Beyond all the physical benefits, exercise relieves stress and clears the mind. Choose types of exercise that you enjoy, so that you are more likely to keep your dedication to the workout. And, don’t be afraid to think outside the walls of a gym. Go hiking, kayak, jog with the dog, or join an adult softball league.
Involve others. Talk with mentors, friends, and family members about your desire to balance work and life. Ask them to share their work-life balance tips and struggles.
Meditate. Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting cross legged with eyes closed. Meditation can mean a slow walk through a peaceful environment or a yin yoga practice. Find what works best for you. The goal is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the body’s rest response) instead of the often activated sympathetic nervous system (the body’s stress response) within the autonomic nervous system.
Reevaluate your work-life balance often. With changes at work or shifts in commitments outside of work, it’s always a good idea to actively reflect on the balance between your work and home life and then take steps to maintain that balance.
Resources 1. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/stress-levels-in-the-u-s-continue-to-increase/ 2. http://fortune.com/2015/11/11/chart-work-week-oecd/ 3. http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/09/news/economy/americans-work-bush/ 4. http://www.projecttimeoff.com/news/press-releases/americans-waste-record-setting-658-million-vacation-days 5. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/american-workers-are-burned-out-and-overworked-2015-06-30 6. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/americans-only-take-half-of-their-paid-vacation-2014-04-03 7. http://www.projecttimeoff.com/sites/default/files/PTO_SoAV%20Report_FINAL.pdf 8. http://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahlee/2014/10/20/6-tips-for-better-work-life-balance/#fd2f313dbc9c 9. https://www.fastcompany.com/3047825/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/7-habits-of-people-who-have-achieved-work-life-balance 10. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247563
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