Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Importance of Play for Adults, and Why it Makes You a Better Employee

After reading the headline, we may have already lost some of you. The importance of play? We are here not just to address those of you who do not think the words "important" and "play" belong in the same sentence, but to address all Americans. Even people who would readily agree that it is important to make time for play still don't do so enough.

Today, the average employed person is on the job an additional 163 hours per year, compared to figures for 1969. 25% of full-time workers spend 49 or more hours on the job each week, and 3 out of 4 poll respondents admitted to being on the job more than 40 hours per week. Increased work hours and time wasted in front of the TV and other media devices leaves less time for us to truly play. When you look at these numbers and put them next to the increased obesity rates, depression, and other chronic diseases, it is no wonder why we are so sick.

American society has, in recent decades, moved away from designated "play" time for adults. Many employers are finding ways to incentivize workers to stay in the office for lunch. Another incentive to keep workers in their desks is the option to cash in on unused vacation days. Of course, vacation is one important aspect of adult play, and it is something that Americans do not get enough of. Even though the average American income is 65 times higher than that of half the world's population, we have significantly less time off to enjoy this higher income. More than half of American workers get fewer than 15 paid vacation days per year, compared with 5 to 8 weeks in Sweden, and an average of 6 weeks among French, British, and German workers.

What many employers don't take into account is that the time spent away from the office is imperative to combating employee burnout. When employees can take time to "regenerate" they are able to be more creative, productive, and satisfied in their jobs. Vacation, or play time, allows people to build new connections in the brain. Also, employee satisfaction goes up in the weeks leading up to a vacation, as well as upon returning to work. Clearly, all of this can be a huge asset to a company. One company even reported that, upon increasing vacation time from 2 to 3 weeks, employee retention problems went from 360% to just 60%, and sales increased by 15%. After all, an overworked brain is unable to efficiently problem solve, focus, or plan; a burned-out employee is just a warm body in a chair.

With Outski, you can easily and affordably keep your employees happy with our 401(play)® benefit program. Not only do we provide your workers with a structured and goal-oriented way to save for vacation, but we also provide them with access to wholesale travel rates, all on an interactive platform that makes planning easy. Increasing employee output really is as simple as improving your company's culture by encouraging travel. If your company is looking for a way to increase employee retention, productivity, and sales, contact us here (under "I'm a company") to set up a private demo.  


Monday, March 2, 2015

Invest In Yourself: Smart Ways to Spend Your 2015 Tax Refund

If you're among the millions of Americans who qualify for a tax refund this year, you'll want to be smart with that money you're getting back. At Outski, we believe that the smartest way to invest this money is to spend it on improving your physical and mental health. Below are ideas for spending your tax refund that we believe are the top ways to stay healthy, outside and in.

Take steps toward financial wellness by starting an emergency savings fund and paying down debt.
Ideally, you will have three month's worth of fixed expenses set aside in an emergency savings account. If you don't, putting even 20% of your tax return into such an account is a good idea. If you were unemployed at any point during the recession, you know how important this emergency fund can be. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. Even setting aside small amounts will add up over time. Ultimately, having that emergency fund will provide peace of mind, which helps to improve mental health by lowering stress.

Tax season is also a great time to pay off or down debt when you get that much-needed refund. If April 15th comes and goes and your wallet is temporarily fatter because of tax day, don't miss out on the opportunity to free yourself from these shackles. Getting out of debt is another part of the road to financial wellness and feeling a sense of contentment.

Continue your education.
Whether it's getting started on a college degree or just taking continuing education courses and attending workshops, using your tax refund towards enhancing your skills in the workplace is a great investment into your future earning potential. Even if you are a stay at home parent and your spouse works, it is always a good idea to have something to fall back on. Having a plan B is just another way to help keep stress at bay.

Purchase a new mattress.
The experts at say that mattresses play a huge role in how well you sleep. In fact, one study found that people who slept in new beds reported a "significant decrease" in stress. Getting proper sleep plays a huge role in physical and mental health, as well as quality of life and safety, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Pre-pay for one massage a month for the next year.
Regular massage therapy has proven to relieve a number of ailments from back pain to anxiety. 

Hire a Personal Trainer
Many of you out there might say that you don't need a fitness trainer, because you already know proper form and how to train your body. Maybe you do, but how often do you put that knowledge into practice. The majority of us are not disciplined enough to push ourselves as hard as we would if we had someone else putting us to work. Being held accountable by having a session to attend once or twice a week is great way to ensure that you will get it done. 

Take a vacation.
Here in America, we tend to see vacation as a luxury, rather than a necessity to maintaining our health and happiness. Intuitively, we understand it, so why not just do it? Putting a portion of your tax refund towards a vacation may not cover the entire cost, but at least it's a great head-start. Then, you can continue having money deposited into your Vacation Savings Account every week until you reach your budget goal. Research has proven that people who don't take vacations regularly are up to 8 times more likely to suffer a heart attack. Tax season is a great time to start making vacations a part of your overall personal health and wellness goals. 

Investing in yourself is the best way to go when considering how to spend your tax refund. Your mind and body will be thanking you for this one smart financial / health decision for years to come. 

images, from top:
© devisu / dollar photo club
© / dollar photo club

5 Ways to Reduce Stress During Tax Season (Think: Vacation!)

If tax season has you eating chalky heartburn medication like candy and surrounding yourself with comfort foods, you're not alone. Most working Americans dread tax season more than any other time of year. But you don't have to be paralyzed with fear of the IRS if you just make a few minor changes that will help you better cope with the stress of tax season. From getting organized to planning a vacation, there are many ways to knock out tax-related stress and anxiety.

1. Maintain your records year-round. Staying organized is a surefire way to reduce stress. Rather than having to dig through piles receipts and bank statements every year, you'll make tax time much easier and far less daunting if you just put important paperwork into the appropriate file, as it comes up. Not to mention, it will drastically reduce the amount of time you spend on your taxes.

2. Don't procrastinate! If you wait until the last minute to start your tax return, you leave no room for mistakes or delays. Besides, the sooner you finish your taxes, the less time you'll spend worrying about them.

3. Adjust your withholding. If you received a large refund on your taxes last year, you will probably receive a similar refund amount this year.  So you at least you won't have to worry about owing the government any more money. But unless you adjust your federal tax withholding, you'll continue to loan money to the government interest-free, when you could be investing it in retirement or building up your emergency fund year-round. For more details on how to do this, click here. It may still be daunting any time you think about the possibility of the IRS knocking on your door (which is what I always think about this time of year), at least you'll breathe a little easier knowing you have control over your money.

4. Hire a professional. Too many people try to do their own taxes and then end up stuck, or just making a complete mess of them. Save some poor, future accountant a lot of headache by just hiring one in the first place. They prepare taxes for a living, they know the law, so just do it.

5. Plan a vacation. What do vacations and taxes have in common? Stress. Taxes raise stress, and vacations are proven to lower it. This period, the 8 or so weeks leading up to a vacation, is proven to be sometimes even more beneficial to the mental well-being of American workers than the trip itself. This is why Outski has created an interactive social planning and goal-setting platform on our website. It is our mission to change the way America looks at the importance of leisure time. The trip countdown, travel savings graph, and Trip Feed, allow users to have something tangible to look to during the planning phase. We have created a 21st-century means of making travel planning fun. Discuss trip-related topics with other attendees, without worrying who else will be trying to get in on your plans (as only the other attendees have access to this information).

In America we are a little behind of the rest of the world with understanding just how important it is to get away from the daily grind, for a myriad of reasons. Vacations are truly an investment in our physical and mental health, our work performance, and in our relationships with loved ones. Time is finite, and therefore worth far more than money. If you typically spend the springtime stressing over money and piles of paperwork, it's time to hit the reset button and get outski!

images, from top
© bramingo / dollar photo club
© Paul Maguire / dollar photo club
© sakkmesterke / dollar photo club
© Christin Lola / dollar photo club