Jimmy Buffet was right…”Life is better in flip-flops.”

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.

Or is it? New studies reveal American workers are taking fewer and fewer summer vacations—and when they do, they often take their work with them.

As a business coach, I stress the importance of proper rest. And in my 30 years of consulting, virtually every client has agreed that intentionally taking time off to rest and recharge is a great idea. At least in theory. When it comes to leisure, we may talk a good game but an increasing number of us find it difficult to actually step away from our jobs.

We’ll unpack some of the reasons why this is so, but for now, let’s just say that when we finally (grudgingly) break away, it’s not always a clean break.

Pushing too hard is nothing new.

Way back in 1979, a motivational speaker named Tim Hansel published a book called When I Relax, I Feel Guilty. Although it was written before the era of 24/7 emails, social media and other internet distractions demanding our time, it was surprisingly on point. Today, 45 years later, it seems that many of us still feel guilty about taking time off to slow down, relax and rejuvenate.

According to a recent survey by the Movchan Agency, 54 percent of the 2,000 adults polled admitted they work while on vacation. Here’s the kicker: Roughly half said they “feel guilty on vacation”—whether or not they do work during it.

When my auto mechanic goes on vacation, the phone message says, “We’re closed for vacation, we’ll be back in a week, you can call us then.” When I was a kid, that was normal practice. Today, we call that “gutsy”. Sadly, today being “out of the office” really isn’t. In fact, 86 percent of workers say they receive calls and messages from colleagues while on vacation, 63 percent say they feel anxious if they don’t check work-related messages while on vacation, and 59 percent struggle to switch off from work while on vacation.

This perpetual busyness comes at a cost. According to the findings, 70 percent of American workers have experienced mental health issues due to overwork, with 43 percent suffering from anxiety. Worse yet, 1 in 8 are turning to harmful substances to cope.

Granted, some people voluntarily choose to work while on vacation because they love their job, but a whopping 29 percent do so out of fear of losing it.

Nadya Movchan, CEO of Movchan Agency, reports that symptoms like burnout, stress, and fatigue are “impacting the workforce.” Movchan warns, “Vacationing workers are suffering from exhaustion or are too busy working another part-time job to pay the bills, rather than having fun and topping up their tan.”

Why can’t we unplug from our jobs?

Global communications and cyber technology have made it easier for people to work from anywhere. That’s a good thing. But they’ve also made it more difficult for workers to ever completely disassociate from their occupation.

Blame it on the pandemic or on the gig economy, but the trend of working from home (totally or occasionally) is dissolving important boundaries between our personal and professional lives.

Roger Hall is a business psychologist who works with entrepreneurs and Fortune 20 companies. He counsels overworked professionals like lawyers, financial planners and sales people. Halls says, “The drive home from work used to be a logical dividing line between the stress of work and the peace of home. In those 15 to 30 minutes, workers would listen to the radio and decompress from work.”

Today, that traditional dividing line has been largely eliminated.

If you’re like most high-achievers, you probably use your commute to make work-related calls. (I know it’s illegal to text or phone while driving; I’m just describing reality.) And when we opt to work out of that spare bedroom, the boundaries get even more blurred. On days we don’t go into the office (or manufacturing plant or retail store) our “commute” is about ten seconds. Whew.

Turns out that nonstop hustle isn’t good for the human body—or brain. Hall continues, “Twenty minutes of checking emails turns into three hours of building a spreadsheet to meet a customer order by first thing in the morning. There is no time for the brain to rest,” Hall said. “The human brain needs time for rest and quiet in order to repair itself. Those repairs require time, quiet and sleep.”

And, I might add, several old-fashioned, uninterrupted vacations per year.

Your phone’s not all that needs recharging.

Overworking and under-resting keep us from reaching our full potential. Consider these proven upsides from intentional idleness: People who take regular vacations have 1) lower stress, 2) less heart disease, and 3) a happier outlook on life. Just what the doctor ordered, right? On the flipside, people who don’t unplug from work are three times more likely to be fatigued, depressed and anxious.

Packing your suitcase and hitting the road is truly a win-win because planned vacations (regardless of length or type) translate directly into higher quality performance back at work. Catching up on your rest and uncluttering your mind improves your mood, boosts creativity, and allows you to think more clearly.

In my brand-new book Would They Follow if They Didn’t Have To? I devote a chapter to the importance of intentionally scheduling breaks—daily, weekly, monthly and annually. Here’s an excerpt from the section, “What is Rest?”…

We work, create, schedule, respond, meet, debrief, and initiate at a breakneck pace. We use digital tools that let us perform more tasks than ever at speeds no previous generation could even imagine. We tackle bigger workloads than we’re designed to handle and talk ourselves into believing it’s normal to live like this.  

Then at the end of another crazed week, we “crash” in an attempt to get some rest for the next go-round. But crashing isn’t resting. Crashing is just pausing long enough to keep your head from exploding. It’s like slowing your car down just enough so it doesn’t totally overheat and blow a gasket.

To really rest, we need to “turn off the ignition” now and then. We need to “put it in park,” roll down the windows, and recline the seats. Real resting is recharging. It’s rejuvenation. Real resting is cathartic. It’s cleansing. It brings back excitement, clarity, and focus. It fosters connection, rebirth, and renewal.

I’m not suggesting a life of laziness. Overworking is hard to self-diagnose because work is often a very positive experience. After all, toiling long and hard is associated with producing the lifestyle and level of income we desire for our families. Plus, a job well done brings a sense of pride that’s directly tied into our self-esteem. But if you’re not able to easily and routinely step back from work and take a vacation, you may have obsessive inclinations.

How do you know if you’ve crossed the line from being a diligent worker to being work-addicted? If someone you know brags about being “too busy to take a vacation,” they’re probably neglecting other priorities—like family, health, and social contacts. If a person is working without taking breaks, it negatively impacts relationships with the people closest to them. Well-intentioned workers or leaders who choose not to take time off from their job are usually unavailable spiritually, emotionally and physically to their own partners and children.

For me, maintaining a strong, loving relationship with God, my family, and my community are the top priorities—and they require finding an equilibrium across my career and personal life. Being glued to any job may seem beneficial for a while, but it’s a trainwreck waiting to happen. Unless you take firm, calculated measures to build in vacations (or even stay-cations), it’s not going to get better.

Here’s more from my book on the necessity (and urgency) of taking breaks…

Let me ask you: When’s the last time you took a day off just to relax and unwind?

If you can’t remember, it’s been too long. But again, you’re not alone. In fact, we’re so consumed with busyness that many of us aren’t even using the allotted time off we’re entitled to. Forbes reports that “among working Americans, about 1-in-3 forfeit most or all paid holidays and days off.”

Other surveys paint even a darker picture. The Job Network claims about half of U.S. workers don’t take formal vacations at all. Results? Skipping your vay-cay causes burnout, bad attitudes, and decreased efficiency. No surprise there. The paradox is that folks who push themselves without taking time off assume they’re doing the firm a favor, but they’re actually becoming less productive.

Creative energy and job focus inevitably atrophy without a “vacation recharge.” Neglecting (or refusing) to find a work-rest balance ultimately harms the exhausted employee, their frustrated teammates, and most of all, their family. If that’s you, here’s a newsflash: There will ALWAYS be more work than time… there will always be one more thing to do.

Reevaluating what matters most.

Question: Which would you rather have—a bigger paycheck or an improved thriving life?

A groundbreaking new survey by one of the world’s largest corporations found that a majority of their employees said they would choose better quality of life over increased monetary compensation.

According to the study by Ford Motor Company, 52 percent of polled employees worldwide said they’d take a 20 percent pay cut to achieve a lifestyle that prioritizes their well-being. (America’s Ford workers feel the same, at 51 percent.)

Ford says employees still feel connected to their professional roles, but that today’s workers increasingly insist that a stressful job is a valid reason for quitting. If you’re a leader or involved in hiring, note these stats: 79 percent of U.S. baby boomers, 72 percent of Gen X, 63 percent of millennials, and 66 percent of Gen Z agree it’s not worth working a job that increases stress levels.

That shift is a glimpse into why creating a culture where vacations and time off are valued (and modelled) is the key to sustainability. And to do this, leaders need to set the example by spending vacation time outside of the workplace!

Sit back and take a load off.

I can’t send you to Margaritaville or any other tropical paradise. But I can help you discover that elusive work-rest balance right where you are. There’s plenty of time to enjoy a vacation (or two) this summer season. I guarantee that if you do, the world will keep right on spinning without you. To prove it, I’m available for a relaxed, informal conversation about how to begin. Or if you choose, I can guide your entire leadership team into a season of increased effectiveness and life satisfaction. Check out my website or contact me directly.

PS – Every beach bag needs a book. For some fun summer reading, check out my new offering on Amazon. Here’s a handy link.