Vacations Have No Cumulative Effect

Giving workers more vacation time doesn’t mean increased ROI for employers. Pro or con?

Pro: Myths About Vacation and Productivity

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.

Con: Of Course You Need More Vacation

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.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg Businessweek, Businessweek.com, or Bloomberg LP.

Reader Comments

Tex

I could care less what the two debaters think. Show me the research.

John

Vacations in US are not long enough and should follow the more productive modern economies of Germany and Sweden, etc. who have 4 -6 weeks guaranteed.

Squeezebox

I find professional conferences refreshing, provided I'm not on the committee organizing them. You get away from your routine and away from your home responsibilities without any guilt.

Virginia Hand

My family was at Disney, and the guave pasty was excellent.

Jim Jordan

I just took a 16 day staycation. I stayed home and did stuff around the house, took short local weekend trips, had friends over for dinner, and relaxed. Try one, you will be glad you did.

CatherineLu

Everytime I was travelling, I would ceaselessly complain about the tireness, and the best thing I wanted to do at that time was simply going back to the hotel to catch some Z's. But ironically, I would still be looking forward to have a trip after some rest. People never get out of the traps they set for themselves.

Sebastian

That's not a staycation, that's being cheap. I can have dinner with friends all the time even if I have to go to work the next day or not.

Edgar

I find a staycation to be a lot more relaxing to me than the planning and additional stress you take on when traveling.

I understand it is great to see new places and travel, but in my opinion everyone needs a bit of both.

I would say to take 2 weeks off. Travel the first one and relax at home the next.

Albert

Took a vacation to Ixtapa, Mexico 2 years ago. It was so tranquil I don't want to go back because it might not be a similar experience. But I always do my best to make a vacation like the posters.

egor

When I am lying on my deathbed, I will remember the time I spent with my family, not the time I spent work.

Jim Bean

You probably need a job first, to be on vacation.

jerry mckay

Vacations are a must. Being a timeshare rep and an owner, I see people planning too much stuff to do on vacation and end up needing a vacation from their vacation. The best vacation is if you go for a week, plan 2 days of activity if it's just you and/or a loved one, and 3 days if you have the kids, and rest the rest of the time, and whatever you do, please do nothing the last 2 days of your trip, so you can completely recharge before heading home.

Darlena

I agree with many of you. We need the time first of all. I have found it most helpful when we can have activites for 2 days and relax for 2 to 3 days. The problen is especially with my husband's job, he does not start out with vaction time each year. He earns hours per day, and it takes so long to accrue he sometimes has to use it for personal business, so we end up trying to do everything in a weekend and it sucks. We need to be like Europe, 30 days per year. Studies have shown it improves attendance and job performance and lowers medical cost. It beneifts the employers as well as the employee. Some don't get it though.

Jack

These comments have kind of strayed from the topic of whether or not vacations make you more productive at work. I like Toyota's solution. They have shut down weeks spread throughout the year, basically evenly distributed vacation for all employees to rest and relax. Add that to your two or three weeks of scheduled vacation and you get plenty of time off work and it becomes relaxing. My work manages a little differently, with a Sunday to Tuesday staff retreat every other month where you go camping as a group, play sports, and bond, with a couple meetings to motivate cross-department operations.

srijita banerjee

As a student of business management, I can say that only vacations help me to increase my knowledge in other fields rather then study topics.

anita

Being tired at work increases the probability of accident: Numerous medical malpractices, faulty products from the assembly line, and dozing off at the wheel happen because of workers who are too fatigued to concentrate on their ceaseless task. Apart from the issue of performance, not giving vacation is a shortsighted idea from the security respect as well.

On top of that, employees are inclined to lose their humanity by relentless work without break. One who only cares about work is no better than a machine. On a regular basis or at least once in a while, people should have time to escape from work life and think over other facets of life: hobby, friends, or even a philosophical field. Such activities make us humane. From my personal experience, I was surprised to find myself changed to great extent after 5 years of a professional career as a banker. A girl full of romantic dreams and literary interest is gone; a female banker who only talks about monetary issues and real estate is here. Focusing on occupational aspects, my human ego was buried under the heavy workload and sapping politics at the workplace. Then, I took a year of vacation that brought me back to who I was before. Accordingly, people should not engage in the work too much; rather, taking a break maintains our lives healthier than the stipend does.

Lauren

I haven't done the research on this, so I can only speak anecdotally about myself and my coworkers and our views on vacation. I work for a company where salaried employees start with 3 weeks vacation, which is rare for most US corporations. Our company notoriously pays in the bottom quartile of our industry, but people remain loyal and stay with the company for decades. One of the main reasons is the benefits package, which includes vacation time. I live 1200 miles from my immediate family and visit them during the holidays. I like to take a week every year to recharge and explore somewhere new. With 3 weeks vacation, this still leaves time for me to take a couple spontaneous long weekends if I want. Without this opportunity, I can guarantee I wouldn't be as productive, because I wouldn't have anything to look forward to, and I would resent not getting to see my family. In the event that I ever find myself working for a different company, equal or greater vacation time would be a deal-breaking criterion for me, regardless of salary.

Roland

I know how this works. If it isn't a profit center, get rid of it. Maximize this quarter's numbers, collect the management bonus, then bail, preferably with golden parachute. Your people suffering from burnout? Sucks to be them! We don't give vacations to steel-collar workers. Can't you compete? We'll just outsource your job. Or you can keep working as a contractor, no benefits of any kind. Problem solved!

Loha

If you work in an open office environment--you are constantly interacting with your colleagues and competing with them for promotions, for the kitchen microwave, for attention from other colleagues, etc. You need to get away from them; overnight rest or weekend is not enough.

At work you are an economic entity--labour, management, consumer, wage earner. At vacation you are a biological entity--eat, rest, sleep, and "some other activities" such as sunbathing au naturel. If these two entities are not in balance, you are in serious, serious trouble.

Join the Debate

 

Participate More!

Please send us your ideas for new Debate Room topics. If you're an academic, association officer, or other industry expert and would like to write a Debate Room essay, send us a query. Questions? See the

BW Mall - Sponsored Links

Buy a link now!