4 things that can ruin the effectiveness of your vacation

Too many employees find it difficult to take vacations.

In a recent survey by experience management and software company Qualtrics, 49% of U.S. employees admitted to working an hour or more a day while on vacation, and about a quarter work more than three hours a day while on vacation. paid vacation.

This type of distracted leave — whether self-imposed or set by employer expectations to be available at the time — essentially negates the purpose of spending time off the clock.

And in a country the Center for Economic and Policy Research calls “No-Vacation Nation,” it should come as no surprise that the survey reported that only 26% of workers used all of their paid free time. Additionally, more than a quarter of workers said they did not feel rejuvenated after their vacation.

Of course, this is a larger systemic problem: not everyone is entitled to paid leave. “One of the most striking findings,” says Adewale Maye, who has worked on most versions of the “No-Vacation Nation” article, “is how the United States is still the only developed country without federally mandated paid holidays. To see so many nations in Europe offering this time to rest, for family or simply to take time for yourself, shows how much many other countries value the well-being of workers and how far the United States is behind to really support [its] Workforce.”

Vacations can do wonders for people’s mental health and well-being. People who take vacations are less at risk for cardiovascular problems and other life-shortening factors, such as depressive symptoms.

Brooks Gump, a professor of public health at Syracuse University, studies the effect of work on our health, including how vacations can lessen (or increase) stress. Gump and his team have studied a particular phenomenon around the benefits of holiday “fading” and “crossfading.” These two stages essentially correspond to the period of anticipation of leave preceding the vacation and the period of lasting benefits that individuals feel after the vacation. Essentially, how enriching and restful the vacation is depends on how we feel before and after we are away from work.

And there are a certain set of behaviors that can wreak havoc on the benefits of rest. Here’s what to avoid.

1. Work while on vacation

It’s all too easy to take a quick look at your inbox when you’re taking the time. But it can be a slippery slope. Instead, it’s best to resist and use the time as an opportunity to create clear boundaries between your work responsibilities and your personal time.

By working during holidays, workers create the feeling of still being “plugged in”, which diminishes the benefits of free time.

Studies looking specifically at the dangers of working while on vacation are sparse, but the downsides of overwork in general are clear, as well as the benefits of taking a vacation. For example, research published in 2020 by a group of Finnish researchers found that taking regular vacations was an essential part of keeping workers mentally healthy. Conversely, a World Health Organization study found that working more than 55 hours was linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

2. Keep your notifications active

Think about how distracting notifications on your phone or computer can be when you’re trying to focus deeply or complete a project at work. The same feeling can be just as disruptive if you’re looking to relax. Notifications cause worry and distraction, instantly knocking you out of your free time. By neglecting to turn off your notifications, you’re essentially making your rest less restful.

3. Not taking enough time off

You may just not be taking enough time to fully enjoy the vacation. Research is mixed on the right number of days to take, with one set of data suggesting it takes around a week for workers to feel they’ve truly detached from work. But you don’t have to travel far or spend a lot of money to enjoy the benefits of a break. A staycation, where you keep things more local and decompress at home, can make the difference, says Gump.

Committing to taking your full paid time off can help shift the way you think about time off. Instead of feeling like you’re not taking enough time or that you’re going to fall behind, change the way you think about the vacation. It’s not about whether you can walk away from the office; it’s because we owe you some free time. “When you’re not taking that vacation, you’re basically writing a check to your employer; you give them money,” Celeste Headlee explained to Fast company.

4. Neglecting to plan ahead of your vacation

If you always feel stressed, it may be because you forgot to plan your free time well. After all, sitting in heaven feels less idyllic if you feel guilty leaving the rest of your team with a pile of missions and no clear instructions.

Practice good pre-vacation protocol by meeting most deadlines for your vacation week in advance. Next, be sure to schedule upcoming team needs or weekly responsibilities on your calendar, and communicate with your team how to handle these assignments in your absence. Good planning comes down to clear communication.

Another key part of vacation planning is setting a good out of office message. When you neglect to set up this type of communication, you risk canceling some of your other plans, because your contacts will continue to contact you if they have not been informed of your absence. This makes you more vulnerable to the temptation to check your messages and leaves you with a pile of tasks that you’ll have to deal with as soon as you get back to work.

This kind of planning is important when you’re “rushing” back to your work routine. How you return to work and whether you experience any stress during this time is essential for a relaxing vacation. “You hear stories of people saying their jobs are busy when they’re gone and they feel all that extra stress when they come back,” says Gump.

Gump has researched work-related stress, most recently in a 2020 paper he co-authored with experts from UC Irvine and Syracuse. They found that workers were more likely to experience positive emotions when returning to work after a vacation if they left the office with lower levels of stress. People who were very stressed before going on vacation did not feel any change or did not experience positive emotions.

In other words, the amount of stress you feel at work cannot explode before a vacation, for a break to be properly replenished. “There is some evidence that work-related stress can also affect the impact of [a] vacation,” Gump says. “Higher job stress is associated with increasingly lower vacation benefits.”

Sara H. Byrd