A study conducted by the University of South Australia (UniSA) explored the fascinating connection between vacation time and employees’ health habits. The research reveals how time off not only provides a much-needed break from work but also has profound effects on physical and mental health.

Pressed for time? Here’s a quick summary…

  • Participants experienced improved sleep, increased physical activity, and decreased sedentary time while on vacation. The longer the vacation, the longer participants experienced lingering benefits after returning to work.
  • Utilizing vacation time can improve mood, heighten cognitive function, and lower the risk of health conditions while boosting productivity, decreasing absenteeism, and reducing turnover upon returning to work.
  • In many high-stress professions, particularly those in the medical field, doctors often struggle to take adequate vacation time and maintain work-life boundaries.
  • Employers can encourage vacation time utilization without compromising work demands by emphasizing quality of work as a measure of success, fostering a culture of advanced planning, and ensuring comprehensive coverage during employee absences.
  • In order to combat the stigma often associated with taking time off, employers can position vacation time as a reflection of their organizational values. Setting mandatory minimum leave and encouraging leaders to lead by example are effective strategies to achieve this.

The Connection Between Vacation Time & Employee Health

The UniSA study analyzed 13+ months of fitness tracker data from over 300 Australian adults, comparing individuals’ health habits during vacation with those of daily routines.

When on vacation, participants experienced: 

  • Improved sleep in both quality and duration, with an extra 21 minutes of sleep a night 
  • Increased physical activity, with an extra five minutes of exercise a day 
  • Decreased sedentary time, with 29 fewer minutes of sitting a day
The Connection Between Vacation Time & Employee Health

These behaviors have profound implications for employee well-being, including: 

  • Improved mood, as engaging in healthy behaviors boosts endorphins 
  • Heightened cognitive function, as rest and rejuvenation contribute to improved concentration, focus, and decision-making abilities 
  • Lower risk of health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression

The Long-Term Impact Of Vacation Time On Employee Health

The Long-Term Impact Of Vacation Time On Employee Health

Vacations that span over a week seem to have a lasting impact, with the benefits lingering well after the participants return to work. For example, those who went on week-long vacations or more experienced better sleep for at least one week after returning to their daily routines, surpassing their pre-vacation sleep levels. 

The long-term impacts of vacation translate to sustained employee well-being, benefiting both the individual and the organization as a whole. Organizations may observe the following benefits from offering long-term vacation to employees: 

  • Boosted productivity and performance, as employees return to work refreshed, energized, and engaged 
  • Decreased absenteeism, as lack of rest and rejuvenation can cause sickness 
  • Reduced turnover, as greater work-life balance prevents burnout

Vacation Deprivation In High-Stress Professions

Vacation Deprivation In High-Stress Professions

Despite these evident benefits, statistics reveal an alarmingly low vacation utilization among doctors:  

  • Nearly 10% of physicians report taking less than one week of vacation per year  
  • Even when they manage to take time off, over 90% of female physicians admit to engaging in work-related activities while on vacation, such as responding to emails or attending meetings 

The impact of high-stress jobs on vacation time and overall health is a pressing concern, particularly within the medical field. The demanding nature of their profession not only takes a toll on doctors’ mental health but also exacerbates their struggle to achieve work-life balance. This lack of time off deprives them of the rejuvenating benefits that vacations offer, adversely affecting their overall well-being.

The Benefits Of Short Breaks & Long Weekends

For those who find it challenging to take a full week off from work, short breaks and long weekends can still be advantageous. The study revealed that even after a three-day weekend, participants experienced higher levels of sleep two weeks post-vacation compared to the weeks before. 

To maximize the benefits of short breaks, employees must set clear boundaries to fully disconnect from work and prioritize self-care. Engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation can optimize well-being, yield notable health benefits, and increase productivity upon their return. These activities can include: 

  • Pursuing hobbies 
  • Spending quality time with loved ones 
  • Enjoying moments of solitude

Implications For Employers

Promoting vacation time as part of a company’s wellness strategy demonstrates an employer’s commitment to employee well-being and work-life balance. The impact of time off resonates beyond just enhancing job satisfaction and mental health; it also leads to a more productive workforce. This ripple effect of benefits is felt by the individual employee and radiates outward, enhancing the overall health and effectiveness of the entire organization. Employers can encourage vacation time utilization without compromising work demands by: 

  • Redefining Success: Instead of focusing on the number of hours spent working, emphasize the quality of work as a measure of success.  
  • Planning Ahead: Encourage employees to plan their vacations in advance to allow for better coordination and workflow management. 
  • Coordinating Coverage: Ensure that workload distribution and resources are effectively managed to accommodate employees taking vacation time. 
Implications For Employers

The benefits of taking vacation time are undeniable, yet employees may worry about being perceived as less dedicated or hardworking when taking time off. This can discourage them from utilizing vacation time and result in burnout. To combat fears of judgment, consider: 

  • Aligning Vacation Time With Company Values: By framing vacation time as a practice that supports organizational values like work-life balance, job satisfaction, and employee happiness, employees feel encouraged to take time off and strengthen their commitment to the company’s mission and success. 
  • Setting Mandatory Minimums: For companies using traditional or bank PTO systems, ensure that employees utilize all of their allotted time off. In the case of unlimited PTO policies, establish a mandatory minimum amount of time that employees must take off. 
  • Leading By Example: Leadership plays a critical role in shaping the company culture around vacation time. When organizational leaders actively take time off, it sets a powerful precedent for employees to follow suit.

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