Taking vacation time helps the majority of U.S. workers recover from stress and experience positive effects that improve their well-being 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%) say the positive effects of vacation time—such as more energy and feeling less stress—disappear immediately upon returning to work, the survey found. Forty percent say the benefits last only a few days.

APA's 2018 Work and Well-Being survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll from Feb. 15 to March 1, 2018, among 1,512 U.S. 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," says David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, who heads APA's Center for Organizational Excellence.

"But employers shouldn't rely on the occasional vacation to offset a stressful work environment.

“Unless they address the organizational 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."

Vacation Time: The Upside

The Work and Well-Being Survey provides a snapshot of the U.S. workforce, including employee well-being 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 well-being and work.

Working adults report that, following time off, they were more productive (58%) and their work quality was better (55%).
Most working Americans reported positive effects of taking vacation time and say when they return to work their mood is more positive (68%) and they have more energy (66%) and motivation (57%) and feel less stressed (57%).

Additionally, working adults report that, following time off, they were more productive (58%) and their work quality was better (55%).

The Downside

Despite this, about one in five (21%) say they feel tense or stressed out while on vacation, more than a quarter (28%) say they wind up working more than they planned to, and 42% 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 organizational factors,” says Ballard.

“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.

"Much of that message comes from the top, but a culture that supports time off is woven throughout all aspects of the workplace."

Impact of Company Culture

Only 41% of U.S. workers reported that their organization's culture encourages employees to take time off, and just 38% say their supervisor encourages the same. And in workplaces that do support time off, it's more than the employees who benefit.

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

They were also more likely to say they are more productive (73% vs. 47%) and that their work quality is better (70% vs. 46%).

Overall, they were more likely to say they feel valued by their employer (80% vs. 37%), that they are satisfied with their job (88% vs. 50%), and that the organization treats them fairly (88% vs. 47%).

They were similarly more likely to say they would recommend their organization as a good place to work (81% vs 39%).

Stress in the Workplace

In organizations where time off is encouraged, 64% of employees say their employer provides sufficient resources to help them manage their stress. Only 18% of employees say the same in workplaces where time off is not encouraged.

Overall, more than a third of working Americans (35%) report experiencing chronic work stress saying during their workday they typically feel tense or stressed out, and just 41% say their employer provides sufficient resources to help employees manage their stress.

Nearly half of U.S. workers (49%) say low salaries are a significant source of work stress. Other reported sources of stress: lack of opportunity for growth or advancement (46%), a workload that's too heavy (42%), and unrealistic job expectations and long hours (39% each).

Just half of workers (50%) say their employer provides the resources necessary to help them meet their mental health needs.
The survey also looked at the effect of employees having access to adequate mental health resources.

Overall, just half of workers (50%) say their employer provides the resources necessary to help them meet their mental health needs.

When adequate resources are provided, only 33% of workers say they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday, compared to 59% of those who say their employer doesn't provide sufficient mental health resources.

When it comes to overall well-being, nearly three-fourths of employees supported with mental health resources (73%) say their employer helps them develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle, compared to 14% who say they don't have the resources.

"Chronic work stress, insufficient mental health resources, feeling overworked and under supported—these are issues facing too many workers, but it doesn't have to be this way," Ballard says.

"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."


This article is based on materials provided by the American Psychological Association. Content has been edited for style and length.

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