Vacation time and productivity at work are closely linked. Recent studies show that employees who take regular and long vacations are among the most efficient and productive. It’s a matter of working smarter so you don’t have to work harder, or longer.
An employee who feels chained to his or her desk or computer terminal and can never take time off for relaxation and contemplation is likely to become a victim of burnout and lose motivation. Americans especially are prone to view themselves as irreplaceable at work, and thus take way less vacation time than their counterparts in Europe — yet American efficiency continues to plummet, while European efficiency and productivity is steadily rising.
Here are some surprising findings about vacations and productivity:
You’ve earned it, take it!
Surveys are showing that more and more workers are taking less and less of their allotted vacation time. Why is this? The number one reason is boredom; workers can’t find any interest or fulfillment in their time off — they identify so much with their work that time away from it seems like exile, not a vacation.
The second reason is financial. When offered the option, most employees in America today would prefer to cash in their vacation time for money instead of spending a week or two on a tropical beach or climbing mountains. Another reason is that with the radical changes in the family dynamic in the last 20 years, many people no longer have a ‘hometown’ to go back to for a visit or family members they feel excited to see. Work is the only ‘family’ they have.
This seems ironic to Joe O’Connor, Director of Operations at American Houseboat Rentals. “Americans have all this free time, and great technology to use their vacation time in very creative and fun ways” he says. “But instead of taking advantage of such things for a long leisurely cruise or trip, they want to hurry back to their jobs to make sure everything is going okay. That attitude is really counterproductive.”
It’s not a vacation if it’s less than a week
Research shows that taking less than a full week of vacation is not enough time to decompress from the stress and strain of a full-time job. It normally takes three full days away from work for a professional man or woman to start fully relaxing; up until that time the body still thinks it’s at work and runs accordingly.
Once the body and brain realize that the regular work schedule is no longer in effect, they start to slow down and produce fewer stress-related enzymes and hormones. After a full week, the mind and body are ready to fully utilize the break from work, and that is when real healing and rest can take place.
Time off is not wasted time
Researchers who study employee efficiency and productivity have found that the time away from work correlates with the productivity of the employee. In other words, the more time an employee spends away from work, up to a certain point, the better he or she is able to perform their work — even though they have less hours to spend at it.
Our grandparents knew all this!
This principle is not brand-new, either. As far back as 1920, some of America’s industrial giants discovered that going from a six day work week to a five day work week actually increased productivity and lowered industrial accidents.
The next logical step was to provide workers with more holidays and paid time off, because a relaxed and happy worker was less prone to make mistakes and worked smarter in order to earn the extra time off. This also cut the ground from under many unions, which were agitating for the exact same thing.
While today it’s mental fatigue that affects most workers, and not physical fatigue, it’s still important to realize that the best and least expensive way for companies to keep their employees productive is to provide them with generous vacation packages — and to make sure they take advantage of them!