Company Culture

Go the hell on vacation

It's not the solution to employee burnout, but it will make you healthier, happier and more productive on the clock.

Beach, anyone?

(Photo by Julie Zeglen)

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink, Technical.ly’s Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up to get the next one.


In July 1863, the Union Army had just won the bloody Battle of Gettysburg. The Civil War wasn’t over but it had already been years of divisiveness and death. The country was being torn apart.

In Philadelphia, the young, the old and the privileged who had so far escaped enlistment found a new sensation.

After a decade of political in-fighting and obstruction, the first train line to connect the city to Cape May, New Jersey, the country’s first resort town, was completed. That first trip “downtheshore,” as any proper Philadelphian should call it, marks the beginning of the modern era of the American vacation.

Almost 160 years later, as we begin another pandemic summer alongside violent partisanship and economic distress, consider the history and importance of taking time off.

More than 200 million American adults, better than 80%, intend to travel for pleasure this summer, according to one survey. Four in five of us have a road trip planned, and one in five are going abroad. Notably, 40% of us plan to travel more than last year, and inflation has nothing to say about it.

That’s a good thing. It’s conventional wisdom that we’re more productive employees and healthier people when we make time for rest and recovery. Given that this pandemic has become synonymous with workplace burnout, we’ve elevated that discourse.

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Unfortunately vacation isn’t the answer to employee burnout. At least not if it’s only a temporary fix. Time off must be part of an overall strategy for keeping fresh. If it’s not, a company’s unlimited time off policy can be a perk in name only.

What a pity, since time off improves performance. Employees who take less time off are roughly 25% less likely to receive a promotion and as much as 80% less likely to receive a raise or bonus compared to their peers who do take time away, according to 2017 research.

Those who take regular time off are healthier, happier and literally less likely have a heart attack.

That line to Cape May wasn’t the first train to connect city-dwellers with a beach. In 1854, a single line connected Camden to today’s Atlantic City. But something changed after the Civil War. It was too painful. It scarred a generation, reminded them that life is short. Doctors and even some ministers began extolling the virtue of taking time off. In 1869, a preacher published an early travel guide, in which he wrote of the importance of a summertime retreat — and it became a surprise best-seller. Business elites found this fashionable and talked about “vacating” their city homes for the summer, giving us the term “vacation” rather than then English “holiday.” The research later backed them up.

Still, Americans famously struggle with this. Employers here offer less of it, and we use less of it.

I once had a very good tradition of getting away in the summer. The pandemic crushed that, and I haven’t taken much time at all in three years. Now, I’m returning timidly to the tradition. You won’t receive this newsletter next week, since, in the great Philadelphia tradition, I am heading to a shore point for a few days. Take time for yourself, too.

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