Early Career

Will Taking a Vacation Make You Happier at Work?

Summer is fleeting. Blink and you miss it. Or work too much and you miss it.

My husband and I both work very demanding jobs and we have two young daughters who consume most of our non-working time. With the ubiquity of technology and the fact that we are both highly engaged in our work, we find it difficult to turn off our phones, our minds, and our desire to get just one more thing done. So we did something different this year to better optimize our paid time off benefits and more importantly, reap the benefits of truly being disconnected when possible, and catch those fleeting moments of summer.

“Getting away from it all” used to imply a physical work space with a computer that stayed at the office. Work used to be where you went, where today work is what we do. So how has this redefinition of work, combined with the most recent recession, generally impeded our willingness and ability to truly disconnect?

Paid time off is a benefit and in most companies it is “use it or lose it.” Some companies allow employees to roll over a certain number of days to the next year, provided an employee uses the days within a specified timeframe.

Despite these constraints, a recent study by the U.S. Travel Association found that forty percent of Americans will not use all of their allotted vacation days this year. I am not surprised by this statistic. In light of our still recovering economy and leaner staffing models, employees may be treating their vacation balance as a rainy day fund and are finding it harder to take vacation.

Where and when did we create this notion in our heads that stepping away from our jobs results in negative outcomes? This may be shocking, but when you take a vacation, yes even a real, totally disconnected from all work email and apps vacation, the world keeps turning and your company will still be in business when you return. As Juvenal wrote: Mens sana in corpore sano, or a sound mind in a sound body.

Does vacation help you come back refreshed and relaxed? The answer, likely, is “it depends.” Many factors complicate our ability to take and truly enjoy a vacation but many of these factors are within your control.

Do the following statements sound like things you have thought or said?

I can’t take a vacation / disconnect while on vacation because…

  • There is no one to do my job while I am out
  • I might miss something important
  • It’ll be too hard to catch up when I return
  • My manager will think I’m less engaged and motivated than the next gal

Reflect on the reasons why you have felt this way and see if the following suggestions could work for you.

Find a Role Model

A good practice I have engaged in over the years is to take my cues from managers that I respect. Engage with someone who is successful and demonstrates an ability to balance her life with work demands. What is she doing and what you can learn from her?

Don’t be afraid to talk to those around you to gain insight into your organization’s culture and the unspoken expectations. Once you have a better sense of the corporate culture and whether or not there is advocacy for taking time off, you can better define what will work for you within this culture.

Do What Works for You

There is a lot of guidance on there on the importance of disconnecting while on vacation. I say, do what works for you. If you are planning to be away for a week and it would make you feel better to check in for thirty minutes every day to keep work moving, do that. If you need to recharge completely and being disconnected will help, do that. Ultimately, only you can decide for yourself what will help you feel relaxed while you are out.

Make a Plan

If you are concerned about coverage while you are out, plan your vacation carefully, avoiding periods of peak activity or demand. If there is no such time in your line of work, talk to your manager about having a colleague cross-trained to enable increased coverage of the work.

Once your plan is designed, communicate it to all appropriate parties, including team members, customers, and stakeholders. Be clear about what will and what will not happen while you are gone. For example, if you are not planning to check email or voicemail, put that information in your out of office messages to set the appropriate expectations.

Block out half a day on your calendar on your first day back to have planned catch up time. Last, but not least, try to stick to your plan. If you don’t respect your own guidelines and boundaries, no one else will.

Since vacation has been shown to reduce stress levels, strengthen relationships with family and friends, and improve one’s health and well-being, I am going to get back to it, on this last day of summer vacation.


Precillia-RedmondPrecillia Redmond is the senior director of corporate human resources and administration at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Precillia earned her MBA from the Olin School of Business at Babson College and specializes in human resources strategy. She already has her dream job and enjoys Forté events.

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