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Do vacations stress you out? (Part two)

tired-touristSo it’s practically summer and I can’t help thinking of the days off I’ll be taking here and there, the chunk of vacation time I still have left and the various long weekends remaining. (But I don’t let my daydreams affect my work!) I might not have a lot of vacation days left, but I’m sure going to use them.

I wrote last month that 42 percent of Canadians considered themselves “stressed, tired and vacation-deprived” in 2009, compared to only 33 percent the year before. Well, it’s only gotten worse. Expedia.ca’s 2010 Vacation Deprivation Survey found that 47 percent of Canadian workers felt that way.

The stress part certainly makes some sense. A lot of workers felt extra pressure to perform during the worst part of the recession, and that pressure hasn’t lifted yet. No doubt many chose to forgo their vacations, either to make sure to get that extra job done or to make sure their employers knew they were there. And working that extra time is going to tire you out sooner or later. It’s a vicious downward spiral of worry.

The thing is, many workplace health and stress experts say that the only way to break free from the spiral is to take that vacation.

But this year Canadian workers gave different reasons for avoiding vacation, and emphasized the economic concerns much less.

  • 13 percent needed a vacation “more than ever” due to recession-related stress. 18 percent said the same last year.
  • 14 percent felt guilty about taking a vacation due to the economy, compared to 17 percent last year.
  • 14 percent said they just didn’t schedule their vacation far enough in advance to make all the days fit.
  • 12 percent said “work is their way of life and they’re too busy to get away”. (Who are these people?)
  • 10 percent said that their partner couldn’t get away from work. (I bet many of those partners were worried about the economy though.)

Now look at this:

  • 53 percent of Canadians return from a vacation feeling “rested, rejuvenated and connected to their personal life”.
  • 39 percent return feeling “better about their job and more productive”.
  • 48 percent of workers feel jealous of their co-workers when they go on vacation.

So just go! Leave the office, and don’t come back the next day. This is what I feel like saying to people who think they can’t take a vacation. But I know it’s not quite so easy.

One commenter responded to the first part of this post that:

“Vacations are good when the person taking time off does not have to return back and put in 12 hour shifts to catch up on the work that piled up… For those of us whose ordinary work weeks run into 50+hours, taking a vacation is unthinkable as the ‘catch up’ weeks after vacation will be a nightmare.”

I don’t doubt in the least that this is a pretty common condition. And the survey has something to say about it as well:

  • 34 percent of Canadian workers found that technology makes it difficult to disconnect from work stress while on vacation.
  • 30 percent checked their phone or email messages while on vacation.
  • 23 percent like to stay connected to their work while on vacation via social media. (Sounds like there might be some underlying issues here.)
  • 22 percent said that they had actually cancelled vacation plans due to work conflicts.

On the other hand:

  • 60 percent said that they need to disconnect completely from work to truly relax and enjoy their vacations.
  • 42 percent said that technology makes it easier to take vacations because they can remain connected to work.

So there are some conflicting attitudes here. We want to disconnect and enjoy our vacations, but we have lots of excuses not to!

I think it’s important for both employers and employees to remember that the health of your workforce is at stake here, and the health of your company. If workers are so busy that they don’t have a moment to themselves, let alone the time to take a day or a week off here or there, you might have problems brewing. When employees start suffering stress-related injuries and demonstrating mental health problems, you might also face some employment standards or occupational health and safety trouble.

Well, I’m not trying to bring anyone down. I’m saying employers have an opportunity to make their employees “feel better about their job and more productive”, by forcing employees to take vacation, and make sure that the workers are not overwhelmed with work when they return.

Let me know what you think about vacations, and whether you’ll be taking all of your days this year!

Adam Gorley
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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