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Do vacations stress you out?

vacationHave you ever had a vacation that was just long enough? At the end of a week off, have you ever thought, “That was perfect, and now I can’t wait to get back to work”?

Well, I’ve just returned to the office after a week at home, and this morning I surprised myself thinking that I was looking forward to my commute! So now it’s back to work, but I can’t help thinking of vacations. Well, sort of: since I’ve been off and not thinking about work, vacations are all I’ve got to talk about.

I think we all know the general intentions behind employee vacations: reducing stress, maintaining health, improving morale, enhancing compensation, and so on. I know that I feel much better after a few uninterrupted days of personal time—despite a bit of back-breaking labour on the house. I got lots of exercise, lots of sun (in May—in Toronto!), lots of rest, and saw lots of friends.

But maybe you heard about this: in 2009, an Expedia.ca/HarrisDecima survey reported that approximately 34 million vacation days go unused in Canada each year. Moreover, 25 percent of Canadian workers don’t use their full vacation allotment in a year, and 42 percent of the survey respondents claimed they felt “stressed, tired and vacation-deprived” (compared to 33 percent in 2008).

Well no kidding! If you don’t take your vacation, sure you’re going to feel vacation-deprived. (We’re still waiting for results from the 2010 Vacation Deprivation™ survey.)

My question is: what is a legitimate reason to skip vacation?

I’m not sure there is one!

The most common excuses respondents gave for not taking their vacations were:

  • They are too busy to take time off: “work is their life”
  • They feel guilty about taking time off work
  • The poor economy

Interestingly, 41 percent of respondents also said that after a vacation they experience greater productivity and a better connection to their jobs, and 54 percent said they feel “rejuvenated and reconnected to their personal lives” afterward. These numbers seem to show a logical disconnect between Canadian workers’ words and actions: they worry that taking time off will negatively affect their job performance or that their employers will think badly of them, but when they actually do take a vacation, they perform better.

At the same time, many people take their work with them while on “vacation”. Thirty-two percent of vacationers have “trouble coping with stress from work” while away, and we’ve all heard the stories of workers attached to their Blackberry phones during days at the beach.

I won’t lie, I peeked at my email once or twice during the week, and I tweeted a work-related story or two. Nonetheless, the key for me was that I hardly thought about work at all while I was off.

I’m not saying that it’s necessarily a bad idea to keep up with work while on vacation. I enjoy my job, and there are some aspects of it—like social media—where the line between work and personal life blurs so sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m working. No doubt, with increasingly flexible work arrangements, mixing work and leisure is something people will just choose to do, without feeling pressured to do so, and without the extra stress associated with it. But it seems clear that taking an extended and consecutive break (i.e., more than 16 hours!) from work can perform wonders for your work habits and general attitude and health. And some workaholics should probably be forced to disconnect completely every once in a while!

So what about you: do you encourage employees to use their full vacation allotment? Do you find that well-rested employees are more productive, healthier and happier than others?

For more information on workplace vacation scheduling and the survey, take a look at Who decides when employees take vacation? And who would decide not to take it? on HRinfodesk.

In addition, keep your eyes open for our commentary on the 2010 Vacation Deprivation™ survey, as soon as Expedia.ca gets around to releasing it.

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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4 thoughts on “Do vacations stress you out?
  • Adam Gorley says:

    Hi Cathy, that sounds like a pretty progressive policy! I’m glad to hear that you’ve found vacations to clearly benefit your employees (and presumably your company).

    I hadn’t thought about the possibility that some employees might find taking four weeks of vacation in a year somewhat difficult—I know I’d never turn it down! But it seems like you’ve discovered a good way to balance your company’s needs with your employees’.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • Adam Gorley says:

    Thanks for the comment Susan. That sounds like a bit of a tough situation.

    I understand the fear of coming back to piles of work and long days getting back on track. I have more than 100 e-mails in my inbox, and they’re piling up even now as I take care of loose ends.

    But in my opinion, your employer is doing you and it a disservice by adding stress and work to your vacation.

    As for the latter point, I wonder about the legal implications of forcing employees to take their Blackberries on vacation to check their e-mail and messages. As you say: such employees are not really getting a vacation, which is clearly against employment standards legislation.

  • I co-own a small marketing company in Guelph, Ontario. We have 16 full-time employees, all of whom are eligible for 3 weeks vacation commencing their first day of employment. That is how important we believe vacation time is. No one has to wait a year to take time off.

    I go to each employee every three months and remind them of how much time off they have remaining in their allotment and encourage them to book some vacation time in the next few months. As well, to encourage employees to take their time off, we are open to last minute bookings even if they give only 1 or 2 days notice.

    We are competing in a creative industry and burn-out is not conducive to creativity. We have found that employees are at their best after vacation time both in terms of creativity and productivity.

    After 10 years with the company, an employee is eligible for another week’s holidays. We do tend to find that some people have a hard time fitting this extra week into their schedule. In these cases we have allowed for an extended leave beyond the usual two week maximum at one time in order to accommodate. Without a doubt, employees who come back from this amount of time off are healthy, happy individuals and raring to go.

    All in all, we have learned that amongst many other things, vacation time is very important to an employee’s well being.

  • Susan Trevers says:

    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 in their absence.
    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.

    Also, my employer expects managers to take their blackberries with them everywhere. So one never actually gets a real vacation.