Four reasons you should take a vacation now

We all love vacations, right? So why are we so bad at taking them? By some estimates Americans have an average of 12 unused vacation days at the end of each year.

And by leaving that leave on the table, you’re not only hurting yourself, but your employer and the economy. Yep, your vacation avoidance is hurting all of us.

Citrix VP Jesse Lipson had a great post on at the end of last summer that echoed this argument. “The truth is, no matter how much our workaholic culture tries to shame us into working longer hours and more days, working more does not equal working better,” he wrote. So let me build on the idea and lay out an irrefutable case for why you need a vacation:

It’s good for you. We are not our best when we’re tired, stressed and overwhelmed. And even when we’re just laser-focused on a particular project or activity, we’re not using our brains’ full creative capacity. Research shows that your brain does its best creative thinking when it’s not focused on solving the problem at hand.

Vacation is also good for your health. One study showed that women who took a vacation only once in six years were eight times more likely to have a heart attack or develop heart disease than women who took two vacations a year. Similar studies of men have had similar findings. In short: take a vacation and live longer and healthier.

It’s good for your employer. In addition to having happier, healthier employees and all the great intangibles that come with them, employers benefit from your increased productivity. One Ernst & Young study found that every additional 10 hours of vacation time translated into an 8 percent improvement on employees’ end-of-year performance evaluations. You work better when you feel better.

Tip to employers: Create a use-it-or-lose-it vacation policy to encourage employees to take time off — and avoid large vacation accruals that require big payoffs when an employee leaves the company. Or take a cue from these companies’ innovative vacation policies and make vacation mandatory or give employees paid vacation plus money to spend while away.

It’s good for the economy. When we don’t take our vacations, the travel industry suffers. And when the travel industry suffers, the whole economy suffers. The U.S. Travel Association cites data showing that the 429 million days of earned leave we didn’t use in 2013 cost the U.S. economy $160 billion and 1.2 million in travel-related jobs.

Planning is easier than ever. There’s a vacation for every budget, schedule and taste, and there’s an app for every vacation planner. Some of my favorites are Trip Advisor and Yelp (for user reviews of lodging, dining and entertainment options), Kayak (for deals) and Pinterest (for visual inspiration). For more travel-planning apps, check out this useful list of tools.

Now you’ve got no excuse. Use your vacation days — or risk depression, heart attack, poor work performance and continued damage to our global economy. I think your next step is obvious!