Author: Lote Steina
2020 was a bad year for vacationers around the globe. Regardless of where you live, it is more than likely that the pandemic either disrupted or completely overturned your vacation plans. Travel, parties, festivals – you name it – all were cancelled or postponed indefinitely.
People reacted to this differently. Some found local activities/attractions that were geared towards individuals or small groups, others stayed (or had to stay) indoors enjoying a sort of “virtual vacation”. And then there were those who figured – if I’m not getting the vacation I wanted, I might as well skip it altogether and make an extra buck or two. The latter option is a bad call.
Rest time in general and vacations in particular are essential to our ability to function properly and perform better. The longer you go without one, the more you harm yourself, your career, and your relationships.
In this blog post I will explore the benefits of taking a well-earned break. Read the entire article and I guarantee that you’ll have a new found appreciation for your annual vacations.
Here is a no-brainer – working non-stop is not great for your body and mind. Overwork and lack of rest is at best harmful to your health and at worst potentially deadly. Tell that to a boss who tries to bother you during vacation!
Work tends to lead to some level of stress. Stress in turn is one of the main contributors to heart disease and high blood pressure. Vacations, on the other hand, help people relax and lower stress. For example, long-term research conducted by Framingham Heart Study has shown that men who take regular vacations are 32% less likely to die from a heart attack, while for women that figure jumps to 50%.
A different study also showed that vacations reduce the risk of all-cause mortality for men who are at high risk for coronary heart disease.
All work, no rest, and stress don’t do wonders to your immune system either. If you don’t rest, your immune system will become weaker, making you more susceptible to infection and disease.
Vacations are also a good way to reduce anxiety and depression. Getting away from the everyday cycle allows your body (and brain in particular) to heal and recover from the constant strains and pressures brought about by the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine.
The stress reducing potential of vacations can be observed in a 2009 study which highlights how active leisure activities (sports, hiking, golf etc.) helped to reduce stress for almost 900 lawyers working in a high stress environment.
As another study shows, a four-day vacation would be enough to have a positive effect on well-being, recovery, strain, and perceived stress. This positive effect could last for up to 45 days after vacation.
Some might say that all of this only applies to those stressed out. “My job doesn’t stress me out all that much” is a common refrain.
I can counter with two things. First, stress has a tendency to creep in. It can build up without you knowing it until the straw that breaks the camel’s back lands. Second, if you do not feel stress at your work, not spending enough time with your family and trying to balance work and private life can lead to all sorts of problems that are themselves causes for a great deal of emotional discomfort.
Family and friends matter more than practically anything else in the world. Therefore, maintaining or developing these relationships should be among the top priorities for most people.
However, in our everyday cycle of meeting work deadlines, exercising, getting kids to school, cleaning, cooking etc. relationships tend to take a back seat. Again you hear a comment like “I meet my family every day and my relationships with friends are solid”.
Not quite. Relationships are also subject to wear and tear. If you don’t polish them, they will deteriorate. Once that happens, building back what once was takes way more effort than not losing it in the first place.
Vacations are there to help. A well-planned and intentioned vacation can help forge closer bonds with family and/or friends. Such a vacation will make all of you happier at that particular moment and create vivid memories that will stay with you and your loved ones for the rest of your lives.
Research also backs up the claim that vacations help relationships. A group of researchers led by Xinran Lehto of Purdue University concluded that vacations contribute positively to family bonding, communication, and solidarity. They state that shared memories and time spent together isolated from ordinary daily activities (work, school, chores) help to build and enhance positive ties.
Another study found that vacations help to improve the quality of women’s marital life and lead to greater satisfaction with home life.
Finally, family vacations are not just for family bonding, but also help to improve academic achievement. Pennsylvania State University researchers have established a positive connection between reading test results and family vacations (particularly joint trips to all sorts of sights and museums). Now that’s what I call hitting two goals with one shot.
Now some of you might not be convinced by these relationship arguments and that’s fine. So let’s return to you as an individual for a moment.
Unless you are a hopeless workaholic like Elon and some other executives who seem to derive joy from long working hours, taking time off from work will make you happier, more fulfilled, and actually more motivated to perform well both in your personal and professional lives.
A Gallup study concluded that people who “make time for regular trips” had a 68.4 score on the Gallup-Heathway’s Well-Being Index while those who travelled less frequently only scored 51.4. Another study shows that a proper, well-planned, and quality vacation can have positive and lasting effects on a person’s well-being not just during the time-off, but for some time afterwards as well.
In opposition to this, scroll up a bit and re-read the section about how stress and overwork can lead to anxiety and depression – two words that are the antithesis of happiness.
Still unconvinced? I bet you’re thinking that you are an important asset and how can your business or organization function properly without you? It will all fall apart and the performance will fall. You can’t leave simply for those reasons, right?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but contrary to what it may seem, vacations actually increase overall company productivity as well as individual employee performance and concentration while also decreasing the number of sick days.
Think about it – vacations are not just the whim of employees and trade unions. It all boils down to the fact that vacations are useful to everyone involved as they just make good business sense.
Studies and statistics show that “taking more vacation results in greater success at work” and also increases the likelihood of getting a raise or a promotion. As Shawn Archor explains in a Harvard Business Review article: “when the brain can think positively, productivity improves by 31%, sales increase by 37%, and creativity and revenues can triple.”
Mark Rosekind of Alertness Solutions goes further claiming that the respite effect of a vacation can increase performance by 80%. Moreover, reaction times for those returning from vacation increased by 40%.
Creativity also gets a boost by vacations. Many employees specialize in their fields with little attachment to the outside world and other areas. Both physical activities outdoors (disconnected from devices) and simple relaxation and daydreaming create the right conditions for the brain waves that are conducive to creative insights and innovative breakthroughs.
Americans are famous for their work ethic – laboring hard and taking only a couple of days off each year. This usually is juxtaposed with stereotypically relaxed Europeans. However, if we look at the most productive OECD countries, nine of the Top 10 come from Europe. The US ranks 6th. Sure, Europe is not an economic powerhouse like the United States, but maybe there is still something Americans can learn from their cousins across the pond.
So it’s all settled then – periodic vacations are essential to retain our mental and physical health, build stronger relationships, and improve our happiness and productivity.
Hold your horses!
While that can be the case, remember that not all vacations are created equal. In fact, the average vacation yields no improvement in people’s levels of energy or happiness upon returning to work due to travel and planning stress.
It is “smart vacations” that lead to the highest improvement in happiness, energy, motivation, productivity, and resilience. How to ensure that your vacations are “smart”? Stay tuned for the next article!