Typical vacations do not decrease long-term work-related stress levels, according to Jane O'Reilly, a human resources professor. In other words, an employee goes away, stress goes down. He comes back, stress goes up.
What's more, if vacation experiences are "resource-consuming", they can leave someone even feeling more drained than before, said another human resources professor, Laurent Lapierre.
Experts say that with a little planning, though, these pitfalls can be avoided. Here are four ways to get more rest, have more fun, and avoid wasting that precious summer reprieve.
1) When people experience work-related stress during a vacation, it can be because they are "output-oriented" individuals, according to management professor Michael Miles.
"They worry about getting this done and getting that done," he said.
Some people just need to recognize that this need to be productive is an aspect of their personality, he said.
"The one thing that I found for myself —I fall into that category — is that I make goals for my vacation itself. So for example, one of my goals for this vacation is to clean out my garage, which sounds really crazy, but it's really relaxing. It's enjoyable because it's a goal and I can check it off and feel like I've achieved something."
Working on personal projects and checking items off a "bucket list" can both be fulfilling alternatives to work, according to O'Reilly.
2) O'Reilly suggests two time-management strategies, to reduce stress before and after a vacation, in her own list of helpful tips.
Before leaving, she suggests making a list of all the things that need to be done, and resisting the temptation to leave things for after the break.
Miles added that this is an especially rewarding strategy for output-oriented people, because it "fits naturally for the personality that is trying to achieve things." Leaving on a high note of productivity and accomplishment, he said, will help output-oriented people relax once they're away.
O'Reilly's second strategy is to "be mentally and logistically prepared for your workload upon your return. Organize your tasks based upon what is most important to get done." This approach, of doing the big chunks first and working through details later, is a habit of successful and productive people in general, said Miles.
3) While there are vacations that consume resources like time and energy, there are also "resource-providing" ones, said Lapierre. Colloquially, these are laid-back vacations that help people "recharge their batteries."
He suggests dedicating time off to doing things that promote relaxation — such as massages, yoga, using a sauna, going swimming — or cultivating a talent, hobby or passion.
And, if a person must reflect on work while they're away, Lapierre suggests focusing on the positive aspects of work rather than ruminating on the negative.
"Taking the time to have positive work reflections and conversations with others is a highly recommended thing to do," he said.
He also suggests keeping a vacation plan simple, so there aren't any unexpected, stressful hassles on the way, as these drain resources and can make a holiday feel like more trouble than it's worth.
4) Don't count on the benefits of a single, restful vacation to carry through the entire calendar year, said Lapierre.
"Hoping that your annual vacation time is going to be the time when you're going to recharge your batteries or recover from work really is foolish. It's absolutely foolish," he said. "There's actually some pretty impressive, compelling research that shows that time that you spend away from work, that's evenings and weekends, really has to be used wisely."
Miles recommends people give themselves time and space for mini-vacations on a daily basis. He said he encourages people to take 20-minute walks during their lunch breaks.
On a scale both large and small, he says, "paradoxically, when you pull yourself away from work, when you come back to work, you're more productive."
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