Think You Need a Vacation? You May Just Need a Better Work Environment

The APA’s 2018 Work and Well-Being survey found that Americans are stressed out at work, and vacation days aren’t doing much in the long run.

Buena Vista Images/ Getty Images
Buena Vista Images/ Getty Images

No matter your profession, you’ve probably heard that taking a vacation will help you destress and clear your mind. After all, who doesn’t love taking a break every now and then? Over 76% of American workers get paid vacation days at their jobs, and most companies offer anywhere from ten to twenty-four days per year. Taking time off isn’t a bad idea, but if you’ve ever told yourself “I need a vacation,” what you may actually need is a less stressful work environment.

According to recent survey findings released by the American Psychological Association (APA), taking time off helps the majority of workers recharge and recover, but these benefits usually wear off within a few days. The APA’s 2018 Work and Well-Being survey, conducted among 1,512 US adults, found that most vacations end with 42% of participants admitting they “dread” returning to work after a break.

In fact, the survey found that nearly two-thirds of working adults felt temporarily calm while on vacation, but felt stressed out again once returning to work. 24% of participants said the relaxing effects disappeared immediately after returning to work, and 40% said the benefits lasted a few days before completely diminishing.

“People need time off from work to recover from stress and prevent burnout,” said David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, who heads APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “But employers shouldn’t rely on the occasional vacation to offset a stressful work environment.” Ballard believes that unless companies correct organization factors that promote a stressful environment, occasional vacation days won’t make much a difference.

“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,” Ballard explained. “Psychological research points the way in how employers can adopt effective workplace practices that go a long way in helping their employees thrive and their business grow.”

While employers have the power to create healthier environments, there are steps that can be taken by employees to ensure you’re spending your time in a way that doesn’t make you need a vacation. Whether it would help to stay more active outside of the office, talk to your manager about more sustainable hours, or hone in on your work-life integration, there are ways you can create a better environment for your own wellbeing. While rest is important, you shouldn’t rely on your vacation days to get some headspace.

The next time you’re planning a vacation, make sure you feel good about the environment that awaits your return. 

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