Survey: The Benefits of a Good Vacation Can Fade Fast

Time away from the office has diminishing returns if employees come back to an outsize workload and a demanding culture, a report from the American Psychological Association finds.

Getting a little time away from the office is a great way to de-stress, of course—and your vacation euphoria can even follow you back into the workplace.

But don’t expect it to last.

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Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but a new report from the American Psychological Association highlights the limited impact of taking PTO. The 2018 Work and Well-Being Survey, based on research conducted by the Harris Poll in February and March, reports that many people find vacations energizing and helpful, but that often the effects of that stress release go away quickly. A big reason for that is what employees know they’re coming back to.

When an organization’s culture encourages time off, employees are more likely to have the necessary stress recovery experiences when they use vacation time.

Among the report’s findings:

Many employees find it hard to take time away. Just 41 percent of respondents said their organization’s culture encouraged employees to take time away. In contrast, nearly a third  (32 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that their workload made it difficult to take time off, and more than a quarter (26 percent) worried about missing important information while on vacation.

When time off is encouraged, workers come back in a better mood. The effects of taking time away are better when employees come back to the office and don’t have a mountain of work waiting for them. The study found that 81 percent of respondents whose employers encouraged time off agreed that their mood was more positive after a vacation, versus 60 percent for other employees. “An organization’s culture makes a difference,” the report states. “When an organization’s culture encourages time off, employees are more likely to have the necessary stress recovery experiences when they use vacation time. They are also more likely to benefit from vacation time, and those benefits last longer.”

Supervision and culture play an important role. Organizations can improve the impact of vacations by encouraging supervisors to better track employees’ vacation time, limit the number of tasks waiting for them when they return, and consider the messages that employees may be getting from the internal culture. “Examine the assumptions that may be operating below the surface, and take steps to address any dysfunctional elements,” the report advises. “Managers and work teams should explicitly discuss their expectations when it comes to use of vacation time and availability during time off.”

In a news release, David W. Ballard, the head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, put the responsibility on leadership.

“Employers shouldn’t rely on the occasional vacation to offset a stressful work environment,” Ballard said. “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.”

By for Associations Now, a publication of the American Society of Association Executives.

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