Why time off still matters

Effective and affordable ways to recharge now

By Mark Saine, TIAA Managing Director of Client Leadership Solutions

Whether you're an "essential" worker putting in extra hours, a remote worker logging more desk time, or an employee heading back to the office, it's likely that your job has been consuming a disproportionate amount of your energy. Add in employment uncertainty, financial concerns and the impact of COVID-19, and you have a recipe for burnout.

Lately, I'm hearing a lot from people who feel like their lives are all work, all the time. In fact, an April survey from the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) found that more than two in five employees feel exhausted, drained or burned out from work.1 Fortunately, there are some effective ways to feel better.

One of the simplest ways to ward off burnout is very straightforward: use your paid time off (PTO). But often, when I tell people to take some time off now, I'm met with resistance. They counter with questions like:

  1. Who can spend the money on vacation now?
  2. Where can we even go during the pandemic?
  3. I'm worried about my job. How can I take a break?

It's not unusual to feel concerned about taking time off and spending on vacation, even in normal times, but there are important reasons to do so. Taking a break from work can help you rest and recharge, which can make you more creative and productive. People who take time off for themselves or to spend time with family and friends are often happier.2 So, your time off can be a positive influence on your job and how you feel in general. And you can take the time you need without breaking the bank. Here are four important strategies to make it happen:

1. Plan a vacation budget

It may feel uncomfortable to spend money on vacations right now. Maybe your finances or career are uncertain and you're trying to manage your cash flow. But changes in the way we work may mean you are spending less money in some areas (commuting, clothing, eating out) that you can repurpose for the occasional splurge during time off. If you haven't already, take a look at your bottom line and see what financial opportunities may be available.

2. Vacation on your terms

If the thought of taking a week or two of vacation still seems daunting, try rethinking your approach. There are ways to get the same benefits of a full-fledged trip without spending much or even leaving home. You might plan a staycation where you take a few days off and spend them doing fun things you never get to enjoy in your own backyard. Check out your state parks or hike trails in your area. Visit your state's travel and tourism website and find fun, low-cost, safe experiences that are nearby.

3. Add short breaks—and get creative

You can also take shorter breaks—even a day or two—and spend them doing things that make you happy. If you don't feel good about traveling now, spend some time online paying virtual visits on YouTube. I love some of the train videos that show you the beautiful sights on train rides throughout Europe and Asia. You can "visit" the wonders of the world, great works of art and nature's beauty from the safety of your home without spending a penny on travel. Or simply spruce up your backyard with some lights and even a kiddie pool and plan a special, affordable, and socially distanced meal with friends.

4. Find time for family, friends and yourself

Taking time off also gives you more time to spend with the people closest to you. When you devote time to your loved ones, spend time with your partner, and do socially distanced visits with friends, you have the opportunity to make memories that will last a lifetime. And don't forget to plan time for yourself, too. Simple and affordable activities like baking bread and assembling jigsaw puzzles have been popular during the pandemic for good reason. They allow you to shift your focus for a while without spending much to do so.

Your creativity is your only limit in making these moments restful and fun opportunities to recharge. So use your PTO, even in short stretches, to help you better manage stress and remain sharp as you make your way through these challenging times.

1Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), “Navigating COVID-19, The Impact on Mental Health,” April 2020. p. 11. Retrieved from: https://shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents/SHRM%20CV19%20Mental%20Health%20Research%20Presentation%20v1.pdfOpens in a new window

2U.S. Travel Association, “The State of the American Vacation 2018.” p. 6. Retrieved from: https://www.ustravel.org/sites/default/files/media_root/document/2018_Research_State%20of%20American%20Vacation%202018.pdfOpens in a new window

This material is for informational or educational purposes only and does not constitute fiduciary investment advice under ERISA, a securities recommendation under all securities laws, or an insurance product recommendation under state insurance laws or regulations. This material does not take into account any specific objectives or circumstances of any particular investor, or suggest any specific course of action. Investment decisions should be made based on the investor's own objectives and circumstances.