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Are You Really Returning to Work Productive After Vacations?

For many employees, leaving work behind for a little R&R can be a challenge, so workers want the most bang for their buck when they book a vacation in regards to happiness and productivity at work.

However, if the goal is to rest and recharge, are workers really returning to work ready to be more productive after vacations?

The Catch-22 of Vacation Happiness

In this era of data and analysis, we know our ROI for just about anything, including the benefits of taking vacations from work: increased happiness and rejuvenated productivity. As if happiness were a credit card and productivity our rewards for shopping, workers want to max out those benefits as much as possible.

On the other hand, workers consider vacation time a scarce resource (especially considering many employees forgo time off altogether to keep up at work). Consequently, all of those potential rewards must be packed into a very short amount of time.

Workers put extra pressure on planned vacations to turn into perfect memories that they can pack in the suitcase and take out again when they return to the daily grind. However, studies find that your post-trip euphoria will quickly end.

In response to this, headlines and articles abound on how to extend the emotional value of your vacation and prolong the joy and ease of our “vacation selves.” To really cash in on the anticipation high and the post-vacation glow, we must plan far in advance and record everything so we can replay the memories and bottle our bliss. That way, even if the vacation itself is filled with the occasional snag or the inevitable stress of traveling, in your mind, you can mold it into the happy memories you want by romanticizing the trip both before and after.

In a sense, we’ve distorted the purpose of vacations to focus more on the end result instead of the journey, a classic Catch-22 which may be robbing us of the vital restoration we need away from work.

What Happened to R&R?

Instead of treating vacations as a souvenir happy pill, let’s return to the original intentions for this time away from work — a well-deserved period of rest and recovery. Much like your recovery days from running and lifting weights, vacations offer your mind and body a much-needed break from the routine and accumulated stress of work.

Even if you love your job, the repetitiveness, multi-tasking and pressure stretch you thin. Such stress is why companies hand out vacation time in the first place and why many countries mandate it for workers.

And just like muscle recovery, vacations helps us restore energy and repair any damage due to work stress and drudging beyond the 40-hour work week. However, we can’t expect or force this state of restoration to continue long after we return to work, and by over-planning and focusing on the end results, we may be missing out on opportunities to really recover for productivity.

As Jennifer Senior and experts pointed out in New York Magazine, vacations are like sleep. We need it, but we can’t expect to not get tired again when we awake.

What we can do more of is, well, nothing, including completely disconnecting from work while on vacation.

Think about it, you wouldn’t run a mile or lift a weight on your workout recovery day, right?

Disconnect and Do Nothing

On at least one vacation a year, toss work to the wind. Skip the early tour to sleep in, turn off the email notifications, linger longer at an overlook, leave the smartphone behind, move like molasses, let things go wrong and use every sense to stay present.

Serving our “remembering selves” instead of our “experiencing selves” (as psychologist Daniel Kahneman says), we think we should spend vacations photographing and cementing everything into memory, but in this way, we savor the memories more than we live them.

Instead, put down the camera and focus on truly living in the moment. This way, you’ll return to work renewed instead of stressed, and instead of pictures, you’ll bring back better stories for that next online meeting.

About Ashley Speagle

Ashley Speagle is a Florida-born, Georgia-raised communications specialist, couch movie critic, dream interpreter, acrophobic adventure seeker, outdoors enthusiast, and easy-going introvert.

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