Most of us Americans love to work. Or perhaps we’re afraid not to. A 2010 survey indicated that the average American accrues 18 vacation days and uses only 16. The average French worker takes more than twice the vacation time. Okay, what goes through your mind when you read that statistic?
To some, the difference between American and European workers is made clear through this little statistic of who works more. We’re productive. They’re lazy. The truth is, it might say the opposite. Europeans understand that breaks improve workplace efficiency. We mistakenly believe that more hours will always increase output, while ignoring the clear evidence: The secret to being an effective worker is not working too hard. Really. I’m not kidding.
Back in the 1920’s, Henry Ford discovered that productivity returns increased in his automobile factory when he reduced the workweek from six days to five, and 48 hours to 40. Ford said, “We know from our experience in changing from six to five days and back again that we can get at least as great production in five days as we can in six.” Ford’s insight 90 years ago is part of a long tradition of productivity-obsessed Americans.
Numerous studies have shown that productivity increases when we take breaks throughout our day and when we take vacations. Over 25 years ago, Pastor Rick Warren challenged me to “divert daily, withdraw weekly and abandon annually.” Small breaks improve concentration. Long breaks replenish job performance.
Clinical Psychologist Francine Lederer wrote, “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound…most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”
The bottom line is, breaks are better for our brains than overtime. Where you get your break — from a half hour doing social media while having lunch, a day in the park, or a week on vacation with your family — doesn’t matter so much as that you get it.
I’m going on vacation this week. We’ll be spending a couple days in Jacksonville with our daughter and son in-love, helping them set up cribs, changing tables and more to get ready for their soon-to-be-born twins. And then we’ll be driving to Ohio to reconnect with my wife’s 92 year old father and her siblings at a bed and breakfast in the heart of Amish country.
Maybe I can learn to slow down from the Amish. Since we will be having two different meals with Amish neighbors, I think I’ll ask how they manage to get so much done? I’ll report what I find out on a later blog — of course, after I get back!
QUESTION: Are you planning to take a vacation this summer? Do you mind sharing about it?