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Recovering from the stresses of work

Workers may be stressed only eight weeks after returning from vacation

By Brian Kreissl

Back in March 2012 I blogged about having just returned from a vacation in Florida, and how it was nice to have a break and get back to my work and household chores with renewed vigour and vitality.

After just returning from another vacation — also in Florida — I read an article today about how a recent study found that work fatigue returns very shortly after returning from vacation.

The study, commissioned by online travel agency Holiday Hypermarket, surveyed 2,000 British workers and found that employees begin to feel tired and stressed only eight weeks after their vacations. It also found that the majority of British workers take time off only once or twice during the year, even though there is a risk of reduced productivity after just 56 days on the job.

Because vacation entitlements tend to be longer in the European Union (EU), where workers are entitled to a minimum of four weeks’ vacation per year, we can probably surmise that the situation is even worse in Canada. But does that mean we should be taking a week’s vacation every two months?

Recharging one’s batteries

I am a strong believer in taking one’s allotted vacation every year. I would also argue that it’s a best practice for employers to provide at least three weeks’ vacation to all employees.

However, I wouldn’t necessarily argue for unlimited vacation time or that one week out of eight should be spent away from the office. There are other ways of recharging your batteries and recovering from the stresses of work and modern life.

Don’t get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoyed my vacation. I was really looking forward to my time off, and it was just what the doctor ordered in terms of stress relief and relaxation.

But even though it was a welcome break from the daily grind, my vacation itself wasn’t entirely stress-free. At times it felt like our itinerary was somewhat hectic, and of course there are the bills that inevitably pile up after a vacation.

We were constantly worried about our dog, even though we knew he was being well cared for. I know this is silly, but I also couldn’t help worrying about what was going on in the office in my absence.

Nothing earth-shattering had happened, but I still had a ton of e-mail to go through on my return. Thankfully, it wasn’t that bad this time around, but it can sometimes feel like it isn’t even worth it to take time off. I personally believe that in many cases you never truly catch up on what was missed at work during a vacation.

Still, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my vacation. We had a great time at theme parks, a water park, the beach, an aquarium and the resort’s pool (and of course shopping at outlet malls and eating out).

Relaxing and de-stressing

But aside from taking a week or two off once or twice per year, what else can employees do to relax and de-stress? And what can employers do to help?

Personally, I believe holidays and long weekends can be great stress relievers, and it isn’t always necessary to take a week or longer off at a time. A short break away from the office can be quite helpful, especially if you aren’t returning to a mountain of work that piled up in your absence.

Employers need to make realistic demands on their employees and ensure they aren’t swamped with work after returning from vacation. At least some of the work should be delegated to others, and there ideally should be no expectation that employees check their work e-mail while on vacation.

On a personal level, it’s important to take time for oneself and schedule fun activities at times even on work nights. Going on dates with one’s spouse or partner, family game nights, sporting activities, or even just going for a few drinks after work can also help.

Getting a good night’s sleep can be a great de-stressor, as is regular exercise and healthy eating. Avoiding too much caffeine and staying hydrated can also help. I personally like to go for a walk during my lunch break whenever possible as well.

Employers should also try to make work as fun as possible by scheduling team building activities, social events and time away from the office. Even varying people’s work duties and job rotation can help avoid boredom and burnout. 

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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