Science shows that sometimes, people need to Just. Stop. Working. Because, as it turns out, not taking vacation time is a terrible idea. It’s bad for efficiency and for the economy. Study after study has demonstrated that taking vacations results in higher worker productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee retention, and significant health benefits.
“Taking time away from work and routine allows the body to replenish and repair itself”, according to Karen Matthews of Mind-Body Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Their survey of 1400 participants revealed that leisure activities, including taking vacations, contributed to higher positive emotional levels and less depression. Other reported benefits? Lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones and… smaller waistlines!
Clinical psychologist Deborah Mulhern has also found that people who don’t take enough time to relax may find it more difficult to relax in the future. “Without time and opportunity to do this, the neural connections that produce feelings of calm and peacefulness become weaker, making it actually more difficult to shift into less-stressed modes,” she said. “What neuroscience is showing is that we require down time in order for our bodies to go through the process of restoration. It is only when we are safe from external stresses that our bodies can relax enough to activate restoration.”
Post-vacation benefits are both mental and physical
Employees return from vacation refreshed, relaxed, and demonstrably more productive. They also report feeling more creative after they’ve disconnected from work. And managers return to work as more focused business leaders after some serious downtime.
Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist specializing in stress and relationship management, says “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation.” She calls the impact of vacations on mental health “profound.”
Conflict and tension in the workplace are also reduced thanks to vacations. When Tony Schwartz was creating The Energy Project (an organization aiming to increase productivity and well-being at work), he realized that his employees were burning out “and it showed up in a collective tendency to be more emotionally reactive — shorter and sharper — and more willing to settle for an easy solution rather than do the hard work necessary to get the best result”.
In an article for the New York Times, Daniel J. Levitin, author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, wrote that giving our brains time to totally disconnect and daydream can provide “our moments of greatest creativity and insight.” He adds, “If we can train ourselves to take regular vacations — true vacations without work… we will be in a more powerful position to start solving some of the world’s big problems. And to be happier and well rested while we’re doing it”.
Managers should encourage employees to use all of their vacation days – without sending them on a guilt trip! And employees should understand that downtime is equally essential to managers and other executives in high-stress positons – and not just a “perk”.