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Help for the Vacation-Deprived

Experts explain why many Americans aren't taking advantage of the vacation time they're entitled to.

Focus on Productivity

Fear and a strong cultural focus on work are largely responsible for behavior in regard to their job and leisure time, says Helen Friedman, PhD, a clinical psychologist in private practice in St. Louis. "Fear is the motivator -- fear of falling behind in work, fear of being replaced if you don't give 110%," she says. "As a culture, we've evolved to value doing rather than being."

In this country, just being means being lazy as there's no time to just be, Friedman adds. The emphasis is less on character and personality, but more on the job at hand. As an example, upon meeting, one of the first things people ask each other is: "What do you do?"

Halcyone Bohen, PhD, a psychologist in independent practice in Washington, D.C., echoes Friedman's view. "In our culture, work is so highly valued that people are rewarded for it from preschool on, for doing 'a good job,'" she says. "Less value is often put on play and relaxation."

The American focus on productivity is not necessarily all bad as it can give people great satisfaction and fulfillment. Yet it is not the sole element to happiness.

The emphasis on productivity "can be overdone, and can skew people from just being comfortable being with themselves, and being alright without creating a product," says Bohen.

As a result, when they do take a vacation, some people feel restless in the unstructured time and don't know what to do with themselves or others. So they end up checking in with work, because they do not want to lose control of a work project, or they and their boss are so used to them being available all the time. They may also work to avoid facing family issues.

According to a 2006 survey, 33% of men and 25% of women expected to work while on vacation.

Consequences of Having Little Time Off

Vacation is a time for renewal. In work, we are often called to think. Sometimes, it's good to give our brains a rest. Without a break, we may not be able to perform up to our potential. This can be a problem, not only for the employee, but for the employer as well.

"The main benefit of vacation is for the worker to come back energized," says Weaver. "If they haven't had a break, then they're not coming back with new energy. They haven't had a chance to step back and get perspective, and to come back with renewed enthusiasm."

Long working hours without a break, insecurity about one's job, and other work-related issues can lead to burnout and stress. Humans can usually adapt to pressure, but not for a limitless amount of time. At some point, working without a true break can cause problems.

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