Study: Vacations Decrease Work-Related Stress, Especially in “Obsessive” Workers

vacation

Vacations provide an opportunity for relaxation and mental downtime.

The summer vacations have just ended for most people. So, you might wonder how long you benefit from the effects of your holiday? Ought we go on holidays to relieve work-related stress and to stay well?

Research shows that not going on holidays is associated with a higher risk of morbidity (disease) and mortality (Gump & Matthews, 2000; Eaker, Pinsky & Catelli, 1992).

Holidays are brilliant and the positive effects are obvious to us, but the effects on health and well-being are not as long-lived as we like to believe. Positive holiday memories stay with us for a long time, but the direct effects of a holiday decline quickly.

A new longitudinal study by Jessica de Bloom, Mirjam Radstaak & Sabine Geurts (2014), in press at Stress and Health, demonstrates the effects of vacation on work-related rumination and emotional well-being in obsessive-compulsive workers.

The authors assessed work hours, rumination, and affective well-being in 54 employees two weeks before (baseline), during and in the first, second and fourth week after a summer vacation. For the assessment, a digital diary was used before and after vacation, and a telephone interview was used during vacation.

The degree of rumination was assessed on a 10-point scale, and the participants were asked two questions: “I worry about things that have to be done at work”, and “I ruminate about things that have happened at work”.

Affective well-being was assessed in the same way but with three questions: “How happy did you feel today?”, “How satisfied do you feel about this day?”, and “How was your mood today?

The study reveals that (1) vacations decrease work-related rumination until two weeks after a holiday; (2) vacations improve affective well-being, especially in obsessive workers; (3) obsessive workers experience a quick relapse to their initially low level of affective well-being and high level of rumination, meaning that:

“… Obsessive workers seem to benefit more from a vacation [compared to their non-obsessive counterparts] … Their vacation relief is greater, but so is their relapse.” (p. 25).

The authors sum up the findings for us:

Vacations seem to constitute a powerful recovery opportunity for all workers and even more for workers who find it difficult to recover during free evenings after work or during normal weekends due to their strong inner drive to continue working.” (p. 25).

These findings shed light on the importance of a good work-life balance. It seems like obsessive workers (often referred to as workaholics) find it difficult to distract themselves from work-related thoughts after finished work. This tendency may lead to negative consequences for the well-being of the workers, and their social relationships as a result.

The present study shows that a longer summer holiday makes obsessive workers prioritize other things than their work for a while, which is related to improved well-being. Shorter breaks from work like regular evening hours after work, or a weekend, is just not enough for this positive effect to happen.

It also shows that obsessive workers “catch up” with their non-obsessive counterparts with respect to affective well-being during a holiday, which we may consider a major benefit.

The study also shows that obsessive workers tend to “relapse” quickly after work resumption. For this reason, it is highly recommended that obsessive workers try to find and seek a healthy work-life balance when they return to work so that their well-being do not drop so dramatically.

Considering the importance of vacations on well-being, all people should have an opportunity for regular, longer holidays (not just weekends). Workers who are not stressed-out are more satisfied with their jobs, and work satisfaction leads to increased motivation, and productivity as a result. So vacations are worthwhile.

 Photo: Nick Kenrick
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