When you think of summer vacation, you may remember being a kid and taking that amazing three-month hiatus. Maybe summer, for you, recalls fond memories playing games, building sand castles at the beach, slurping popsicles, and generally driving your parents nuts.

But did you know that summer breaks were originally intended for farmers' children? The adults needed their kids at home in the summer to help with the primary growing season and the upcoming fall harvest. As for the city kids, urban schools typically operated on 11- or 12-month schedules.

By 1900, migration moved people from farm life to the city. Today, only about three percent of Americans' rely on an agricultural lifestyle. And the advent of air-conditioning makes it possible for schools to provide comfortable learning environments year-round. Yet, despite these advances, the 9-month school year remains in most schools, in an effort to standardize schooling across the country. 

As for adults — particularly those working as members of the corporate culture — three-month vacations are a thing of the past. Unfortunately, a growing trend among employees is to forgo taking summer breaks, due to increasing demands at work.

But it's still important to plan a summer getaway to reduce stress, whether it's a few weekends sprinkled throughout your summer or one longer break. Here's why.

 

1. Recharge Your Batteries

How will my coworkers go on in my absence?

There's a common assumption that we're indispensable at work. That, in our absence, everything will fall apart at the office.

It won't. While it may make you feel good about your contributions to the company, it's unhealthy — both for the company's growth and for office morale. By taking time off, you provide team members with the opportunity to develop their skills to manage projects while you're away.

Don't fear that you'll be punished for taking a vacation. Know that when you're away, portions of your work, tasks, and projects can be allocated to fellow team members. And, likewise, when it's their turn to get away, you'll have their backs too.

 

2. Gain Long-Term Vision

There's a connection between taking regular breaks during the day and your level of productivity. According to one study, researchers found that "brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one's ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods." So ditch the guilt and stretch your legs. Employees need to detach from their work in order to be more creative and productive.

And while these mini breaks can provide short-term stamina, it's still important to take longer breaks from work to sustain your productivity and reduce stress.

Tight schedule? If work commitments are really pressing down on your time, take a 3-4 day driving trip closer to home. The no-flight break will reduce your personal carbon footprint and save the hassle of dealing with the TSA guidelines. If you're curious, you can check out your calculated carbon footprint before booking a flight.

Vacation time also lets you pursue other interests. For leaders, being away from your work environment for a longer period of time will allow you to gain a fresh perspective on the vision you have for your organization. For employees, summer vacations offer time to reflect on new ways that you can help your team accomplish long-term projects.

 

3. Set an Example

Americans aren't taking vacations. Not because they can't afford them, but, according to research, because the average American is afraid to take time off from work for fear of not appearing dedicated to their job. 

In a survey from workforce consulting firm Right Management, 70 percent of employees said they weren't using all their earned vacation days in 2011.

Team leaders can demonstrate to employees that they understand the importance and necessity of having time off to relax. If you're a supervisor, set an example to your staff. Show the importance of taking vacations by taking one yourself. Hold your complaints for when you're away from attentive ears. Don't groan about what you'll miss when you're away, but instead focus on the positive — and healthy — aspects of vacation time.

Discuss with employees that they need time off to de-stress, that it is in fact healthy to get away from the office. Time away will increase their productivity once they return, rested and relaxed.

Also, remind employees that vacations can be done in small increments — an afternoon off, for example, can possibly work wonders for morale.

 

4. Cultivate Family Bonds

If you're a parent, taking a vacation with your kids can create much-needed quality time as a family.

According to the Disney Time Survey, a blind study conducted by Kelton Research, quality family time not only increases while on vacation but parents and children say they are more likely to learn something new about one another during this time, as opposed to when at home.

Here's what results revealed: 97 percent of parents felt their kids got to know new things about them while on a family trip, and quality time spent with kids, as reported by parents, boosted to 82 percent.

And vacationing together as a family made family members more inclined to be more excited (77 percent), relaxed (75 percent), silly (68 percent), calm (54 percent) and even more affectionate (54 percent).

"We know vacations are important, but to have parents validate how important vacation time is to their families was insightful," said Leslie Ferraro, executive vice president of global marketing for Disney Parks. "As we've learned from families who participated in the survey, those moments of quality family time can feel fleeting in our everyday home lives."

 

5. Be Like A Baby to Boost Creativity

Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology and director of the cognitive development lab at the University of California at Berkeley has studied the minds of babies and young children. Her research has led her to understand key differences between babies' brains and the adult brain. By adulthood, adults have learned how to "dampen down" most areas of our brains, according to Gopnik.

We use one area to specifically focus on one thing or task. Babies and young children, however, haven't yet developed the ability to pay attention intently to one thing, becoming captivated by multiple stimuli, spreading their attention "all over the place."

"All adults have the potential to continue to experience the world in some of the ways that children do," Gopnik told Charlie Rose in an interview. "I think a nice example is like when we go to a foreign city.  When we go to Beijing for the first time, and suddenly we're all like babies. We're in a world that's new and rich and everything around us is unexpected...we go to the new place, we have to learn something new and suddenly we experience everything in a new way." 

New stimuli — faces, places, smells, tastes — can help unlock creative ideas. Even if you don't work in a creative field like the arts or entertainment, tapping into your creativity releases a sense of playfulness and fun, a return to that child-like wonder and curiosity, and can help you sort through challenges at work or in life.

This summer, toss your guilt about leaving the office behind for a little while. Spend time with your family, pursue personal interests, or simply take pleasure in some private down-time.  

 

Source: Laing S, Garet B, Cawley K, Crabtree S. Year-Round and Extended-Year Schooling. Department of Economics at the University of Georgia.