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Vacations recharge workers but the benefits vanish in days

Less than half of employees encouraged to take time off have enough employer support to manage work stress.

Taking time off helps the majority of US workers recover from stress and experience positive effects that improve their wellbeing and job performance, but for nearly two-thirds of working adults, the benefits of time away dissipate within a few days, according to a survey released by the American Psychological Association.

Nearly a quarter of working adults (24 per cent) say the positive effects of vacation time— such as more energy and feeling less stress — disappear almost immediately upon returning to work, the survey found.

Forty per cent said the benefits last only a few days.

APA's 2018 Work and Well-Being survey was conducted online among 1,512 US adults who reported being employed full-time, part-time or self-employed.

"People need time off from work to recover from stress and prevent burnout," the project head said. "But employers shouldn't rely on the occasional vacation to offset a stressful work environment. Unless they address the organisational factors causing stress and promote ongoing stress management efforts, the benefits of time off can be fleeting. When stress levels spike again shortly after employees return to work, that's bad for workers and for business. Employers can do better."

The Work and Well-Being Survey provides a snapshot of the US workforce, including employee wellbeing and attitudes and opinions related to workplace policies and practices. Among other things, this year's survey explored the effect of time off — paid and unpaid — on employee wellbeing and work.

The majority of working Americans reported positive effects of taking vacation time and said when they return to work their mood is more positive (68 per cent) and they have more energy (66 per cent) and motivation (57 per cent) and feel less stressed (57 per cent). Additionally, working adults reported that, following time off, they were more productive (58 per cent) and their work quality was better (55 per cent).

Despite this, about one in five (21 per cent) said they feel tense or stressed out while on vacation, more than a quarter (28 per cent) said they wind up working more than they planned to and 42 per cent reported that they dread returning to work.

"Websites and magazine articles offer plenty of tips on how to make the most of time out of the office, but often put the onus on the individual employee and ignore important organisational factors. A supportive culture and supervisor, the availability of adequate paid time off, effective work/life policies and practices, and psychological issues like trust and fairness all play a major role in how employees achieve maximum recharge," the team said. "Much of that message comes from the top, but a culture that supports time off is woven throughout all aspects of the workplace."

Only 41 per cent of US workers reported that their organisation's culture encourages employees to take time off, and just 38 per cent said their supervisor encourages the same. And in workplaces that do support time off, it's more than the employees who benefit.

When an organisation's culture encourages time off, employees are more likely to benefit from vacation time and those benefits last longer. Upon returning from vacation, employees who said their organisation's culture encourages time off were more likely to report having more motivation (71 per cent) compared to employees who said their organisation doesn't encourage time off (45 per cent).

They were also more likely to say they are more productive (73 per cent v 47 per cent) and that their work quality is better (70 per cent v 46 per cent). Overall, they were more likely to say they feel valued by their employer (80 per cent v 37 per cent), that they are satisfied with their job (88 per cent v 50 per cent) and that the organisation treats them fairly (88 per cent v 47 per cent). They were similarly more likely to say they would recommend their organisation as a good place to work (81 per cent v 39 per cent).

"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."

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