26 November 2021

Taking holiday helps workers recharge – but effects disappear in just a few days, study finds

A quarter of employees say the positive benefits of taking a vacation disappear ‘immediately’ on returning to work



56 Degrees


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A quarter of employees say the positive benefits of taking a vacation disappear ‘immediately’ on returning to work

Two-fifths (40%) of US workers adults say the positive benefits of taking time off work dissipate just a few days after they return, while a further quarter (24%) say their feelings of being more energised and less stressed disappear ‘immediately’ upon returning to work, according to a new survey by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The main benefits of vacation time reported by the 1,512 adults surveyed by the APA included a more positive mood (68%), more energy (66%), more motivation (57%) and feeling less stressed (57%). More than half (58%) said they were more productive after a holiday, while 55% said taking time off improved their quality of work.

However, a fifth (21%) said they felt tense or stressed on holiday because of work, while two-fifths (42%) said they dreaded returning to work.

Commenting on the research, David W Ballard, PsyD, MBA, assistant executive director for organisational excellence at the APA, said: “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 organisational 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.”

Ballard added: “A supportive culture and supervisor, the availability of adequate paid time off, effective work-life policies and practices, and psychological issues like trust and fairness all play a major role in how employees achieve maximum recharge. Much of that message comes from the top, but a culture that supports time off is woven throughout all aspects of the workplace.”

While there has been much media coverage of the UK’s so-called ‘stress epidemic’, it’s worth noting that there is no statutory minimum paid vacation or paid public holiday time for US workers. Almost all workers in the UK are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year (employers have the flexibility to include bank holidays as part of this statutory annual leave). In comparison, private-industry workers in the US had, on average, eight days of paid holidays per year in 2017, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last year, research suggested that 40% of UK workers didn’t use their full holiday entitlement in 2016; one in six had more than a full working week of unused holiday at the end of the year. A third (36%) of workers polled by holiday firm Airtours said they didn’t use their full holiday entitlement because they had ‘too much on at work to take time off’, while a quarter (25%) said they didn’t need or want to take time off. A further quarter (26%) of workers said that rotas and scheduling prevented them taking time off.

Writing for People Management magazine in September 2017, Ian Jones, senior associate in the employment law team at Blake Morgan, offered four ways that employers can help staff beat the ‘back-to-work blues’, including offering short-term flexibility in working patterns around school holidays, supporting career progression, and agreeing permanent flexible working arrangements such as reduced hours, job shares, and term-time working.

“A mental health first aid scheme – where trained mental health champions raise awareness of mental health issues and provide support – can be very beneficial, as can counselling,” Jones added.