WASHINGTON — Toes in the sand, relaxing by the pool, hiking a mountain trail. Most of us revel in those warm and fuzzy details of our prized vacations. Yet for almost two-thirds of U.S. workers, the afterglow from experiencing those feel-good moments fades within days of returning to the grind, a new survey shows.
The survey, carried out by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA), found that almost one-fourth (24 percent) of U.S. workers who enjoy stress reduction and increased energy from vacation time lose those benefits as soon as they return to work. Four in 10 workers were able to run on fumes for a few days before their contentment tanks ran dry.
“People need time off from work to recover from stress and prevent burnout,” says David W. Ballard, who heads APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, in a statement. “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. When stress levels spike again shortly after employees return to work, that’s bad for workers and for business. Employers can do better.”
The association’s Work and Well-Being Surveys capture the attitudes and opinions of U.S. workers toward workplace policies and practices. The 2018 survey addressed the impact of time off, whether paid or unpaid, for 1,512 adults either self-employed or working full- or part-time.
About two-thirds of workers say vacations reduce stress while boosting energy, motivation, production and work quality. On the other hand, about one in five workers actually experiences stress while on vacation. Another 28 percent of employees end up working more than they planned, while 42 percent find themselves dreading the return to work.
Interestingly, most workers don’t feel that vacations are welcomed by their higher-ups. Survey results indicate that just 41 percent of U.S. workers are encouraged by their employers to take time off, with just 38 percent of supervisors promoting a pro-vacation policy. This, despite research showing organizations that support vacation time tend to be happier workplaces because employees are happier. When vacation time is encouraged, employees are more likely to return to work feeling valued by their employer and more satisfied with their job.
“Websites and magazine articles offer plenty of tips on how to make the most of time out of the office, but often put the onus on the individual employee and ignore important organizational factors. 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,” Ballard says. “Much of that message comes from the top, but a culture that supports time off is woven throughout all aspects of the workplace.”
In an interesting parallel, the organizations most likely to encourage time off are also the ones most likely to provide resources for stress management. This is an important workplace factor, with more than a third (35 percent) of U.S. workers experiencing chronic work stress while about four in 10 have employers who provide stress-management resources.
The survey indicates that other sources of stress include low salaries, lack of growth opportunities, heavy workloads, long hours and unrealistic job expectations. Employers who provide access to mental health resources are much more likely to have employees who follow a healthy lifestyle.
“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,” adds Ballard.
Researchers say organizations can — and should — make improvements that will benefit everyone.
The survey was conducted from Feb. 15 thru March 1, 2018.