Did you forfeit vacation days last year? I’m guessing your company didn’t send you a thank-you card for choosing to work harder rather than take much-deserved time to relax.

It’s OK. You are not alone. Despite Americans negotiating an average of about five weeks of paid time off each year, they hardly use the perk. Instead, they toil away in the office and dream of the day they will enjoy a reprieve.

I understand the trepidation of leaving work behind. It is difficult to completely unplug for a few days. Even when I take a break from the office for a fishing excursion, I still check my email and call to check in with my team members in case they need me. While we admittedly all have room for growth, at least I am taking the time off that I have earned.

Of course, completely falling off the grid is easier said than done. Perhaps that is why more than half of workers do not use all of their vacation time and almost a quarter did not miss a day in the past year.

Americans are known around the world as being overworked, and it is challenging to buck a mentality that promotes “relaxation” as weak. As a result, about one-third of managers and executives clock at least 45 hours weekly. They avoid vacations like the plague, leaving a figurative stack of money on the table for their bosses to snatch up.

Vacation shaming in the workplace

What prevents so many people from traveling or even letting their hair down for a long weekend? Let’s call it “vacation shaming.” An Alamo Rent-a-Car survey discovered that 49 percent of respondents said their colleagues guilt them when they take a vacation.

Younger workers are particularly prone to this phenomenon. When the Allianz Travel Insurance Vacation Confidence Index released its recent report, about 25 percent of Millennials described asking for time off as guilt-inducing. By comparison, only 6 percent of Baby Boomers and 14 percent of Generation X members felt the same way.

Instead of feeling happy to get a break, Millennials felt like they were going against their corporate culture. Indeed, only 27 percent of companies reportedly give workers a hearty “thumbs up” when they request vacation days. Employees grin and bear it, forgoing vacation time in droves.

To be sure, not all vacation stress comes from the C-suite — quite a bit of this anxiety is self-derived. Most conscientious employees experience a sense of dread at the thought of leaving the office for a prolonged period of time. Who wants to come back to a mountain of “to do” items or an overflowing inbox? It seems better to hunker down and postpone a trip than to deal with the potential onslaught of work upon a return.

Clearly, something is wrong here.

Taking a vacation from work without going crazy

Force yourself to take time off. 

Do you avoid disconnecting because you think disaster will occur? Take a baby step and expose yourself to the possibility of catastrophe by not checking your email for one evening. The next morning, you will likely find that you did not miss much. In fact, many people who have “urgent” requests end up solving their own issues if you don’t come to their rescue.

After conducting this experiment, challenge yourself by turning off your “work brain” for a weekend. Soon, you will be able to recharge for longer periods with less worry.

Train people to take your place.

Your office should not fall apart when you leave, even if you are the head of your company or department. Train other workers to pick up any slack when you go away. Not only will this give your colleagues the opportunity to showcase their talents and learn something new, but also you will be less likely to return to a mess.

For the best results, start your training weeks in advance of any planned getaway. Starting the night before you leave for two weeks in Iceland will not have a positive effect — your co-workers will feel stressed out and lacking resources.

Outline and share your expectations.

The further out you plan a vacation, the less pressure you are likely to feel when it actually comes to fruition. You can work with everyone to gauge your workflow and prioritize what needs to happen, creating concrete expectations for your time off.

Remember: You don’t need to finish everything before you leave. Not every task is super urgent. Being clear and open with your team members will help them fulfill your expectations and ensure nothing slips through the cracks. Plus, they will be more likely to imitate your successful planning processes when they take their own vacations.

When you find yourself tempted to save your paid time off for a less hectic time, do yourself a favor and reevaluate your reasons for chaining yourself to your desk. By implementing a few travel hacks, you can make vacations and long weekends enjoyable without any unnecessary stress. Bon voyage!

Read more at https://www.thriveglobal.com/stories/41883-don-t-let-vacation-be-a-guilt-trip-how-to-successfully-take-paid-time-off