Almost two-thirds of Americans say the benefits of vacation time only last a few days. Here’s how to avoid getting burnt out after returning to work.
Time off doesn’t always pay off.
Almost a quarter (24%) of working Americans say that the positive effects of vacation time, such as feeling less stressed and having more energy, disappear immediately after they return to work, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2018 Work and Well-Being survey. Forty percent say the benefits of vacation only last a few days, according to the survey of 1,512 full time, part-time and self-employed U.S. adults.
And the break itself isn’t always relaxing: 21% of respondents said they feel stressed or tense while on vacation, and 28% said they end up working more on vacation than they planned to. Four in 10 people (42%) reported dreading going back to work.
“Americans are working harder than before and getting burnt out quicker,” Dan Schawbel, a workplace expert and author of “Back to Human,” told Moneyish. And according to Gallup, the average workweek is 47 hours a week for a full-time salaried worker in the U.S and 44 for an hourly worker, he added. “The new vacation is having your phone with you, so even when you’re on vacation, you most likely still have your phone and are still in contact with employers,” he said.
Part of the buzzkill is returning to a heavier-than-usual workload, added David Ballard, head of the APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “When we come back, we often walk into a situation that is worse than when we left it,” he told Moneyish. “We know from research that when work is piled up, effects of vacation time go away faster.”
But workplace culture and time-off policies can have a huge impact on how long the positive effects of vacation last: 71% of survey respondents who said their workplace encourages time off reported having more motivation to work, compared to the 45% whose employers do not. Meanwhile, studies show that we’re still leaving time off on the table: 52% of employees reported having unused vacation days, and Americans forfeited a total of 212 million vacation days at the end of last year, according to Project Time Off’s annual State of American Vacation report.
Here are five things you can do to maximize your relaxation and cling to that vacation afterglow for as long as possible:
Plan ahead. Set an out-of-office email auto-reply before you go on vacation, stating that you’re away and will not be responding to emails or phone calls, said Schawbel. “Have the specific dates you will be out in the message, and in the meantime, delegate those emails to other people who you work with so you come back to fewer emails.” Make sure there’s a concrete plan in place for what tasks need to be covered and delegated to others, Ballard added.
Set expectations. “Share clear expectations about availability and responsiveness,” Ballard said. “Are you going to be checking email at all? Make sure everyone understands.” It’s important to have conversations with your manager or employees about what to expect while you’re away, and state that you also want to enjoy your vacation, Schawbel added.
Ignore work FOMO. “Many people feel like they have to have their devices because of the fear of missing out on work and coming back to a large workload,” Schawbel said, “but business is going to happen whether you’re there or not.” He emphasized the importance of disconnecting while away and setting boundaries between work and life.
Schedule a catch-up day. The day after you get back from vacation, try to block out a day on your calendar to spend at home to catch up on emails and anything else you missed, Ballard suggested. “If employees and employers make this a routine, to dig out time to catch up, employees will not feel so overwhelmed,” Ballard said.
Keep up with your stress. Ballard warns against relying only on occasional vacation days to manage stress, and suggests building up routine stress management and tackling the underlying causes. “Managers and supervisors alike need to keep up with time off and make sure their workers are using it to recover from stress in the right way,” he added.
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved