When we’re stressed to the max and everyday problems begin to overwhelm us, there’s nothing we want more than to take a vacation. And since we know that taking time off from work can help us be happier, more productive employees, many businesses are starting to encourage workers to take time off. After all, 57% of organizations view employee retention as a problem; helping staff members eliminate stress by allowing them to take a well-deserved break actually saves money in the long run and keeps employees around for longer. But while going on a getaway can relieve our stress for a short while, a new survey has found that those positive effects seem to vanish a few days after we’re back at work again.
According to the 2018 Work and Well-Being Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, almost two-thirds of working U.S. adults reported that the benefits they experienced due to their vacations diminished upon returning to the office. Approximately 24% of respondents said these positive vacation effects disappeared immediately after they came back to work, while 40% said the benefits lasted for a few days after they returned.
Some employees said that they can’t escape the stress of work even while they’re away. The survey also revealed that 28% of respondents said they worked more during their vacation than they planned to and 42% said they dreaded coming back to work. Approximately 21% said they actually felt tense or stressed out while on the vacation itself, possibly due to anxieties about coming back to a mountain of work. In addition, only 41% of workers said their organization encourages them to take time off, while 38% said their supervisors encouraged them to do so. Considering the fact many employees experience “vacation shaming” before they even go on a trip, it’s no wonder that only 3% of U.S. households own a timeshare and so many employees leave vacation days on the table at the end of each year.
Of course, that often comes down to workplace culture. The APA stresses that it isn’t enough to provide earned time off for vacations; they also need to focus on reducing the sources of employee stress and on fostering an environment that prioritizes the health and well-being of employees.
David W. Ballard, director of the APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, noted in the survey: “People need time off from work to recover from stress and prevent burnout. But employers shouldn’t rely on the occasional vacation to offset 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.”
Of the 1,512 part-time, full-time, and self-employed workers surveyed, 68% said their moods were more positive upon returning to work, with 66% reporting they had more energy. Around 57% said they had more motivation and were less stressed, too. Around 58% said they were more productive, with 55% reporting their work quality improved after taking a vacation. It’s pretty clear from those numbers that a vacation does do a body good — it’s just what happens right after the vacation ends that can make a big difference. And that really comes down to the attitudes and policies expressed from the top.
Ballard explained: “Chronic work stress, insufficient mental health resources, feeling overworked and under supported — these are issues facing too many workers, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Psychological research points the way in how employers can adopt effective workplace practices that go a long way in helping their employees thrive and their business grow.”