Vacation Benefits Short-Lived for Many Stressed Employees

July 16, 2018

Taking time off helps workers recover from stress and experience positive effects that improve their well-being and job performance, but for many working adults, the benefits of time away vanish nearly immediately.

Nearly a quarter of working adults (24 percent) say the positive effects of vacation time – such as more energy and feeling less stress – disappear immediately upon returning to work, according to a survey from the American Psychological Association. Forty percent said the benefits last only a few days.

“People need time off from work to recover from stress and prevent burnout,” said David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, who heads APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “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.”

The majority of working Americans reported positive effects of taking vacation time and said when they return to work, their mood is more positive (68 percent), they have more energy (66 percent) and motivation (57 percent), and they feel less stressed (57 percent). Working adults also reported that following time off, they were more productive (58 percent) and their work quality was better (55 percent).

Even so, about one in five (21 percent) said they feel tense or stressed out while on vacation, more than a quarter (28 percent) said they wind up working more than they planned, and 42 percent reported that they dread returning to work. Employers can and should do better.

APA’s Ballard offered these tips for employers:

  • Provide a supportive workplace culture and supportive supervisors.
  • Make available adequate paid time off.
  • Provide effective work-life policies and practices.

When an organization’s culture encourages time off, employees are more likely to benefit from vacation time, and those benefits last longer, the survey said.

“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,” Ballard said.

APA’s 2018 Work and Well-Being survey was conducted online from Feb. 15 to March 1, 2018, among 1,512 U.S. employed adults.

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