Sure, if you engage in physical labor—assembling widgets, shooting hoops, or touch-typing court proceedings—a vacation will help heal joints and stave off repetitive stress injury.
But if you are reading this column, you are likely a knowledge worker. If you are paid to do such things as opine why yuan revaluation will affect Arcelor Mittal’s (MT) demand forecast or speculate how a new telenovela will influence media buying in Belo Horizonte, then two weeks on the beach will not necessarily make you any smarter than a weekend away from the office.
Furthermore, a vacation is rarely the oasis of peace and quiet that Club Med posters and other travel-industry ads would have us believe. To bust this myth, you only have to turn to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s conclusion about a trip to Disneyland (DIS) with the kids. While there, we are completely aware that the hotels are overpriced, the second-long rides have hour-long waits, and the food is truly awful.
It’s not just parents with kids who encounter stress on vacation. In these days of too much information, kid-free couples have to worry that the beach resort they booked wasn’t rated No. 1 on TripAdvisor or that the plane tickets could have cost less on Priceline or that they might not look shapely in their new swimsuits. And for singletons, it’s even worse. You are on permanent heightened alert, hoping this will be the vacation that finally changes your Facebook status.
The inconvenient truth is that the most relaxing part of the vacation is the day we return to work.
Physical, intellectual, and emotional demands imposed by high-level work simply do not permit an easy cycle between professional tasks and personal relaxation. When you juggle work relationships and relationships outside of work, each can suffer from obligations imposed by the other. A little vacation time, however you can get it, might be just what you need to rejuvenate and reset priorities and commitments.
Observing those who have great responsibility for others’ lives and others’ money, we see many instances of burnout: reduced attention span, irritability, and increasingly strange choices of priorities. If a vacation could prevent all of this, wouldn’t it be worth taking?
Yet, you may say, we see other professionals in highly responsible positions who show few signs of tiredness, rarely get upset (at least not in public), maintain their focus, and never burn out. What’s the difference between those who burn out and those who don’t?
For starters, people who tend not to burn out have made effective deals professionally. They negotiate terms with their employers so that the work they do, the compensation they receive, and the personally thrilling opportunities they get all add up to a highly acceptable, actually nurturing, deal.
For the rest of us, however, a simple vacation to ensure we have time off from responsibilities and can clear our thoughts is indispensable. Employers beware, a mind that is not deliberately given a rest will take it when least expected.
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