Everyone loves taking a vacation, but whether it benefits your health may depend on your employer.
A recent survey by the American Psychological Association of 1512 adults in the US found that although vacations and taking time off help the large majority of US workers relax, almost two thirds of those lose any benefit from their time off within just a few days.
The 2018 Work and Well-Being Survey looked at just over a thousand US employees who were either working full time, part time or were self-employed.
Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of the adults in the survey said that the benefits they received from time off, like feeling more relaxed and having more energy vanished as soon as they returned to work and for 40 per cent of respondents the benefits were gone in a few days.
David Ballard leads the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence.
He says that workers need to take time away from work to prevent burnout and recover from stress they might be experiencing, but it’s not enough for employers to assume the occasional vacation will cancel out a stressful work environment.
“Unless they address the organizational factors causing stress and promote ongoing stress management efforts, the benefits of time off can be fleeting. When stress levels spike again shortly after employees return to work, that’s bad for workers and for business. Employers can do better,” he said in a press release.
The survey examined attitude of workers towards both paid and unpaid time off, as well as employee well being whilst at work.
Of those surveyed, 58 per cent of respondents reported that they felt they were more productive whilst at work after taking a vacation. 55 per cent said that their work was of better quality after a vacation and 57 per cent of respondents said that they had more energy and were less stressed after they took some time off.
Overall, the majority of survey participants said that taking time off had a positive impact. 69 per cent of the people surveyed said that they felt more positive upon returning to work after a vacation.
But not everyone is feeling the benefits of time away from work. Around one in five of those surveyed (21 per cent) said they still felt stressed or were tense whilst they were on vacation away from the office. That may have something to do with employees still having to do work whilst on a break. Over a quarter of survey participants (28 per cent) said they had to do more work whilst on vacation than they had hoped for.
42 per cent of people said they dreaded returning to work after a vacation. For some employees, workplace culture plays a big role in determining whether they will feel good about taking some time off.
Less than half of those involved in the survey (41 per cent) said that their workplace culture fostered an environment where employees were encouraged to take time off. Only 39 per cent of respondents said their supervisor encouraged taking time off work.
For employees to properly recharge, ballard says, the culture of encouraging time off needs to come from the top of an organisation. He says there should be effective policies in place that enable employees to take an adequate amount of paid time off, and that employees should feel like they are being trusted and treated fairly.
Although a certain level of stress can be a positive and even helpful thing under the right circumstances, too much stress for a prolonged period can have serious negative impacts. People may experience fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, lack of motivation, headaches, changes in appetite and sex drive. As well as impacting mental health, stress puts pressure on every system of the body; the reproductive, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, respiratory and muscle systems are all impacted by stress.
If workplaces do support their workers in taking time off, they will also benefits. 71 per cent of employees returning from vacation who have a workplace that encourages time off said they had more motivation after returning to work. Of those who worked for organisations who don’t actively encourage time off, only 45 per cent said they felt motivated about returning to work.
The survey found that employees from organisations who encouraged time off were also more productive and had better quality work.
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.