Out of the Office

You’ve earned your PTO. Use it well.

Summer is in high gear and – hopefully – has brought plenty of good weather and sunshine along with it. So if you’re planning on enjoying the sunshine, taking time off, and perhaps traveling too, here are some tips to do so safely, and maybe even become a happier person in the process.

Sunscreen: a necessary evil
As far as things that seem like more trouble than they’re worth, sunscreen might be Exhibit A. (It could be tied with bug spray, which we’ll get to.) However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes a compelling argument for why it might be worth the trouble.

The sun’s ultraviolet, or UV, rays are the most common cause of melanoma, which is the deadliest type of skin cancer. And skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to CDC. Furthermore, “Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. Yet it can take as long as 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure.”

And on that note, “Any change in the color of your skin after time outside – whether sunburn or suntan – indicates damage from UV rays,” says CDC.

Sunscreen is one measure CDC recommends people take to protect their skin from UV rays. “All products do not have the same ingredients,” it notes. “[I]f your skin reacts badly to one product, try another one or call a doctor.”

Sunscreens are assigned an SPF (sun protection factor) number that rates their effectiveness in blocking UV rays. Higher numbers indicate more protection. CDC recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15.

Reapplication of sunscreen is recommended every two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.

Sunscreen does expire. If the bottle doesn’t have an expiration date, its shelf life is no more than three years, though that time frame is shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures.

Finally, though some makeup and lip balms contain some of the same chemicals used in sunscreens, CDC still advises using them in addition to sunscreen – not instead of it – if they aren’t SPF 15.

Along with sunscreen, CDC recommends seeking shade outside; wearing protective clothing as well as hats with brims that shade the face, ears and back of the neck; and wearing sunglasses to protect against UV rays.

For CDC’s full advice regarding sun safety, visit https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm.

Bug spray: another necessary evil
As far as insect repellent goes, it may be inconvenient, but it can also be important. Mosquito bites can lead to Zika and other diseases, and CDC recommends insect repellent as the best way to guard against these risks.

Caution is advised particularly when traveling, as certain regions of the country and world are considered higher-risk than others. With that in mind, CDC recommends taking the following measures when traveling.

Before traveling:

  • Pack a travel health kit that includes insect repellent. CDC recommends Environmental Protection Agency-registered repellents with one of these active ingredients: DEET, picaridin (also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel and icaridin), oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol, IR3535, or 2-undecanone.
  • Learn about destination-specific health risks and recommendations.
  • See a healthcare provider familiar with travel medicine, ideally 4-6 weeks before traveling.

While traveling:

  • Cover up with long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning, or that use window and door screens. If this is not possible, sleep under a mosquito bed net.

After traveling:

  • Visit your healthcare provider right away if you develop a fever, headache, rash or muscle or joint pain.

This information, and more from CDC, can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/features/stopmosquitoes/index.html.

Vacation time
Finally, on a more leisurely note, vacation can be a good thing. And some evidence indicates American workers might benefit from more vacation, so long as they plan it right.

According to a 2016 report released by Project: Time Off, though American employees used to take an average of 20.3 vacation days each year, that number fell beginning in the year 2000, to 16.2 days by 2015.

Project: Time Off estimated that Americans collectively forfeited $61.4 billion in benefits – benefits that are non-transferable (i.e., through rollovers or payouts) – due to reasons such as fearing too much work upon return and the feeling that no one else can do the job. Furthermore, 80 percent of employees said they would likely take more time off if they felt encouraged by their boss.

When surveyed, employees who planned to take time off in advance of actually taking the time off reported not only greater use of vacation time, but other positive outcomes as well. For example, 85 percent of those who planned time off in advance reported happiness in their relationship with their significant other, as opposed to 72 percent of those who did not plan in advance. Sixty-nine percent who planned in advance reported happiness in their relationship with their children, compared with 60 percent who did not plan in advance.

According to the report, planning also takes a role in how American workers use their time off. On that note, setting boundaries can help facilitate more effective use of one’s vacation time.

“Whether you’re planning to disconnect from work completely or simply keep your work time minimized, you need a clear plan for how you’re going to use your devices while in vacation mode,” Alexandra Samuel, a contributor to such publications as The Harvard Business Review and author of the e-book “Work Smarter with Social Media,” said in the study. “The biggest obstacle to disconnecting isn’t technology: it’s your own level of commitment or compulsion when it comes to work.”

To view the results of the study, visit http://www.projecttimeoff.com/research/state-american-vacation-2016.

Also of interest on this topic: France recently implemented a “right to disconnect” law, compelling employers “to define the rights of employees to ignore their smartphones,” particularly after-hours. Read about it in this article from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/dec/31/french-workers-win-legal-right-to-avoid-checking-work-email-out-of-hours.

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