Time to Get Away: How Escaping Work could Increase Productivity


For so long, people seem to carry the notion that a vacation needs to be deserved. We need to have worked hard and achieved great results at work before we are entitled to escape it all and go on an amazing holiday.

Most people rarely make the move to book their flights to Spain, book a trip to Bali or get a USA Esta Visa, unless they have worked their socks off at work and feel that they are entitled to a reward of a nice holiday.

However, maybe it is now time for the paradigm to shift, not only among employees, but also employers. Results from researches over the year have suggested that vacation could actually be a cause, as much as it is a reward, for productivity and creativity in the workplace.

Researches, as referred to by Emma M. Seppälä Ph.D. in Psychology Today, have shown that vacation have both direct and indirect positive impact on a person’s professional life.

Scientists out of the University of California, San Francisco, for example, examined whether vacation really did have strong correlation with relaxation, as have often been suggested. They looked at the impact of a resort vacation and a meditation retreat on biological measures of stress and immune function.

The data showed that a resort vacation not only makes us feel more energetic and less stressed than we were before we took the vacation, it also leads to a strong and immediate impact on molecular networks associated with stress and immune function. Participants who attended the meditation retreat also showed a boost in antiviral activity.

Productivity is also something that is boosted by vacation. The ability and opportunity to disengage ourselves from work prevents the body and mind from being overworked. Having quality time off enables workers to maintain and even raise their level of focus once they return to work.

This is supported by a study by Sabine Sonnentag, professor of organizational psychology at the University of Mannheim in Germany, who found that the inability to detach from work comes with symptoms of burnout, which of course impact well-being and productivity.

In the contrary, taking time out to disengage from work makes us more resilient in the face of stress and also drives productivity and engagement at work.

According to Sonnetag’s research, 64 percent of people say that they are “refreshed and excited to get back to my job” after their vacation. It’s a win-win both for employees and organizations alike, especially given the fact that unused vacation costs U.S. business $224 billion per year.

While an increase in productivity is of immense importance to most industries, some industries place higher value on creativity – a trait that many employers and CEOs say is one of the hardest to find in potential employees.

Again, this is a quality that can be enhanced and refreshed through vacation and leisure. Over the recent years, we have seen some of the world’s top companies like Google and Facebook are starting to put emphasis on the element of fun and leisure in the workplace. This, undoubtedly is part of an effort to raise the level of quality among its bright talents.

In the past, brain imaging studies have shown that doing nothing, being idle, daydreaming, and relaxing create alpha waves in the brain that are absolutely vital to spur creative insights and innovative breakthroughs. And research by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity, has shown that positive emotions—the kind we feel on a relaxing, playful vacation—make us more inventive and able to think outside the box.

To further add to the argument is looking at the effect vacation has on a worker’s personal and family life – which indirectly effects their performance at work.

Most people that have been on family holidays as a young child will say that the memories of those family holidays will last an eternity. In fact, according to 2015 research conducted by the Family Holiday Association out of Britain, the happiest memory of 49 percent of those surveyed was on vacation with family. A third of the respondents said they can still vividly remember their childhood family vacations, and a quarter of them copped to using such memories to get them through tough times.

These memories are often used as an “as an anchor to take us back to more cheerful moments”, says Family Holiday Association director John McDonald in an interview with the Huffington Post.

Furthermore, an international group of researchers led by Purdue University Xinran Lehto concluded that family vacations contribute positively to family bonding, communication and solidarity. Vacations promote what is called the “crescive bond” (in sociological parlance, a “shared experience”) by fostering growing and enduring connections. Shared family memories and time spent together isolated from ordinary everyday activities (school, work, and so on) help to promote these positive ties. Though family vacations can have their own share of stress, the benefits outweigh the risks, even in families that are not particularly close, according to Lehto and co-authors.

To bring the benefit of family holiday experience down to the individual level, we can refer to results of studies examining the correlation between family vacation and personal health, such as that by the American Psychology Association(APA), in Nov. 2013.

The 9-year study revealed that people who spend time with their families on vacations were almost 30% less likely to die from heart-related disorders as compared to people who did not take family vacations.

With the positive effects of leisure and vacation on work performance increasingly manifest, backed by sufficient studies, workers should learn to take vacation seriously. They must really disconnect from work while on vacation, because, as ironic as it may sound, that is the best way they will end up performing better at work.

As for companies, it is time to see and treat employees’ vacations as an investment, a springboard to better and bigger levels of productivity, rather than writing it off as a temporary disruption to their work flow.

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