Vail Daily column: How are time off and health connected? |

Vail Daily column: How are time off and health connected?

As a concept, health and wellness has been on our radar screen in the Vail Valley for years, yet it still remains an elusive idea outside of the clearly understood traditional medical and orthopedic realm.

There are a number of programs that have been implemented throughout the county stressing workplace wellness during the past few years. Our annual workforce survey recently included items to capture the percentage of businesses across the county that have adopted each program. Employers are increasingly offering flextime benefits, opportunities for fitness during the workday, education on wellness and incentives for healthy behaviors.

We’ve also seen community buy-in to the Health Links and Healthy Business Certification program coordinated by the Healthy Communities Coalition and offered via the Vail Valley Partnership. Health Links is a nonprofit initiative from the Center for Worker Health and Environment, within the Colorado School of Public Health. Health Links connects businesses to one another and to vital resources that can help them succeed in creating sustainable worksite wellness and safety programs. Healthy Business Certification gives businesses great visibility in the community and helps to demonstrate that they value their employees. Vail Valley Partnership members receive 30 percent off enrollment for certification that includes an analysis of the program, a tailored report, advising by worksite wellness and safety experts, and access to online resources and local providers.

The Workforce Study shows clear momentum within Eagle County in recognizing the importance of health and wellness efforts and the benefits to both employees and employers. Given our economic dependence upon tourism and recreation, and destination visitors who fuel our economy, what is holding us back on capitalizing on this workplace trend?

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The biggest economic impact might just be the fact that (nationally) we are not using our paid time off. In fact, we’re leaving 429 million days of time off unused each year, and it’s detrimental to our personal health, business productivity and the American economy. This unused leave costs the U.S. economy $160 billion in spending — $67 billion in direct travel spending. Think how much our economy would benefit from even a small fraction of that spending locally!

Recent research from the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Effect initiative sheds light on the challenge we have with using our vacation time — and the resulting economic impacts to communities such as ours. The research shows that 40 percent of American workers will leave vacation days on the table, sacrificing their health and well-being and adopting a “work-martyr complex” to demonstrate their value, despite a universal acceptance of the importance of paid time off.

“Americans suffer from a work-martyr complex. In part, it’s because ‘busy-ness’ is something we wear as a badge of honor. But it’s also because we’re emerging from a tough economy and many feel less secure in their jobs,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Unfortunately, workers do not seem to realize that forfeiting their vacation time comes at the expense of their overall health, well-being and relationships.”

Use of vacation time is directly connected to health and wellness efforts. The benefits of taking time off help to create happy and balanced relationships, improved health and well-being, as well as recharged and innovative thinking. The majority of American workers say paid time off helps them relax and recharge (90 percent), offers the opportunity to do what they enjoy (88 percent) and makes them happier (85 percent). Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) say their concentration and productivity improve with PTO, and 61 percent report greater satisfaction at work.

Paid time off for employees — and encouraging them to use it — is a business strategy and investment with proven returns and has a direct connection to employee health and wellness. The added benefit to our local economy is a nice bonus.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of Vail Valley Partnership.

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