Question: Is taking a vacation good for your career?

A survey by the College of Certified Human Resources Professionals shows that 1 in 10 workers will not take a vacation in 2015. What will be the impact on his or her career? Interview with France St-Hilaire, an academic specializing in communications and occupational health.

How can a lack of vacation affect our health?

F. S.-H. : If you don’t manage to take a vacation, you become more sensitive to stress, which can contribute to the development of psychological (anxiety, burnout), physical (digestive problems, disturbed sleep) or behavioural (alcohol and drug use, aggression) problems. In Japan, the phenomenon of karoshis has even grown for this reason: employees sometimes work up to 18 hours a day and die of exhaustion. A 21-year-old man also died of cardiac arrest in the United States because he had pushed his physical limits too far to impress his new employer.

What should a beneficial vacation look like?

The quality of activities, i.e. those that provide an enjoyable subjective experience, plays an important role in the ability to detach oneself from work both physically and virtually, i.e. if one has access to one’s e-mail, it becomes more difficult to get off work, as the OCRHA survey shows.

Workers should focus on relaxing activities that would help reduce symptoms of psychological distress and burnout. A sense of control over one’s time, which many of us don’t feel we have enough of during a normal week, would also help with rest.

Finally, even if you feel guilty, it’s better to enjoy yourself during this period than to impose obligations such as renovations or visits from family or friends you haven’t had time to see during the year, otherwise you risk returning to work in the same condition as before you left.

How does a lack of vacation time in the workplace translate into a lack of vacation time?

F. S.-H. : Burnout can take many forms. You may begin to become cynical and detach from your work. A phrase like “If I work like crazy, it doesn’t make a difference” is not uncommon when you were otherwise considered very committed. You can also become impatient or even aggressive towards colleagues. In addition, the longer you work long hours without giving your body and brain the ability to recover, the less effective you will be. A task that normally takes one hour will require four hours. The result is a vicious circle: you feel guilty for taking so long to complete a task, so you work more hours to get it done… As a result, you feel a lack of professional accomplishment, which increases stress.

Who is most likely not to take a vacation?

F.S.H.: Especially young people aged 18 to 34. Some start a job and have not accumulated enough leave or have changed employers several times during the year, others try to stand out. Because they recover more quickly, they often overestimate their physical abilities. Self-employed workers are also another group at risk because of periods without contracts that force them to work more during the other months.

What strategies should workers who are not fortunate enough to have a vacation adopt?

F. S.-H. : One way is to extend your weekends. When this is not possible, it is then necessary to encourage moments of recuperation in the evenings and on weekends and increase the quality of activities during these periods. The shorter they are, the more you have to make arrangements to enjoy yourself by relaxing and getting work.

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