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The same time every year, in mid- to late summer, the TED.com office goes quiet. Nearly all of the company’s employees take a mandatory two-week vacation. In a blog post about the unusual practice, TED editor Emily McManus explains that their summer hiatus helps them to avoid the problem of “an office full of Type-A’s with raging FOMO.” By ensuring nothing is going on, they eliminate the fear of missing out (FOMO) on emails, IMs and new projects.

McManus’ post includes additional insight from her boss, TED Media executive producer June Cohen, who explains that their “enforced rest period … is important for productivity and happiness.”

The folks at TED seem to understand what many U.S. employers and employees don’t—that taking time off is not only good for employee health and happiness, it can also increase productivity, which benefits the company.

Working too much will not only kill your productivity, it can also kill you.

According to a 2014 Glassdoor study, American employees, on average, used only 51 percent of their earned vacation time, and 61 percent of those surveyed said they have worked while on vacation. About a quarter (24 percent) were contacted by colleagues about work during their time off, and 20 percent were contacted by their bosses about a work issue.

All this extra time in the office is not earning many people promotions either. According to research conducted by Oxford Economics and Project: Time Off, employees who leave 11 to 15 vacation days unused are less likely to receive a raise or bonus and are more stressed than those who used all of their vacation days.

Working too much will not only kill your productivity, it can also kill you.

Here’s how, according to a round-up of stats from Project: Time Off:

  • The Framingham Heart Study, the largest and longest-running study of cardiovascular disease, found that men who didn’t take vacations for several years were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than men who took time off. The study also revealed that women who took vacations once every six years or less were eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack compared to women who vacationed two times a year.
  • A Marshfield Clinic study of women in rural Wisconsin found that those who took a vacation less often than once every two years were more likely to suffer depression and increased stress than women who took vacations twice a year.

Despite all the research, Americans continue to work more and take fewer vacations. Mobile devices have made overworking even easier. But taking no vacation will not eliminate the fear—of missing out, of not getting promoted, of appearing lazy, of not getting your work done. Instead, try focusing on ways in which you can plan ahead and delegate to make room for time off.

Here are five tips to help you fight FOMO, relax, increase your productivity and maybe even improve your health.

  1. If possible, clear your calendar of open projects in advance and defer project start dates until after you return from vacation. One less reason to check email.

    Personal Note Skype

    One way to let colleagues know you are on vacation—really on vacation—is to create a personal message in Skype for Business (Lync).

  2. Ask a colleague to monitor your email while you are away. Setting up delegate access is simple in Outlook, and in most other email applications. By having a colleague chip away at messages while you are out, the standard post-vacation email mountain will be more like a molehill.
  3. Use your email program’s automatic replies (out of office) feature, but do not include your mobile phone number in your away message. Instead, direct people to contact a colleague for immediate needs (be sure to run it by your colleague first).
  4. Use your email program’s filters, rules, categories, tasks and other productivity features. For example, create categories or rules to flag messages—which emails need immediate attention upon your return, which ones can wait, etc. The only steps required are deciding the criteria and setting up the features before you leave. A small, pre-vacation time investment will deliver significant returns.
  5. If you cannot disconnect completely, set boundaries for yourself, let everyone know what they are, and stick to them. For example, set a specific timeframe in which you will work or check email, for example from 9am-11am. In addition to the aforementioned automatic reply, there are a number of ways you can inform colleagues of changed availability.
    • In Skype for Business (Lync), for example, you can create a personal note that will display in the application and on your contact card. You can change it as often as you need to.
    • Yammer doesn’t provide an out of office feature, but you can use a workaround. Go to Settings > Profile > Edit Profile. Add a message in parentheses in the Last Name field, and it will be visible anywhere your name appears in Yammer until you change it. For example, if your last name is Smith and you will be on vacation until Sept. 25, you would enter “Smith (Out of Office –> 9/25/2015)” without the quotes.

Every employee, no matter their professional level, should take these suggestions, or, at the very least, conduct an honest assessment of how they spend time off. As Sarah Green Carmichael wrote in an August Harvard Business Review article: “… The story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking, and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless.”

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