Posted by admin 30.03.19

Looking to Bust the Stress Cycle? Take a Vacation. Actually, Think Again.

Most of us look forward to taking time off.  A chance to get away from the daily grind and to re-charge the batteries.  Time to spend with friends and family, seeing new places, or just taking it easy.

The American Psychological Association (APA) finds that after taking time off decreases overall stress and has positive effects on both well-being and job performance.  But what is alarming is what is gained is quickly lost.

Surprising?  Maybe not.

Many of us dread going back to work after time away because of the pressures we encounter exceed our abilities to manage them or the forces we confront are beyond our control.  In fact, 40% of workers report the positive side affects last only a few days after returning to work.

21% of workers feel tense or stressed out while on vacation; 28% say they work more than planned

Work is not the only source of tension; vacations create strain, too.  The APA reports that 21% of workers feel tense or stressed out while on vacation with more than 28% saying they work more than they planned.  An alarming 42% say they “dread” returning to work.

Americans, on average, take 10-days of vacation a year.  A paltry amount compared to Europeans, who by contrast, are mandated to have at least 4-weeks of vacation a year.  While behavior is changing in positive ways, Americans still leave vacation time on the table.

The repercussions of not taking time to re-charge are obvious; impatience, fatigue, chronic stress, burn-out, and illness can result if unhealthy habits remain unchecked.

73% of Americans say they are satisfied with their job and 75% say they are motivated to do their very best for their employer

The good news is that 73% of Americans say they are satisfied with their job and 75% say they are motivated to do their very best for their employer.  The opportunity I see is to increasingly think and act holistically.

To move us in this direction, I offer specific recommendations for individuals, for teams, and for organizations that help us achieve results AND promote well-being.

At the individual level, the ability to manage stress, build positive and resilient mindsets, and adopt habits increase flexibility and hardiness.  Increasing personal effectiveness helps to off-set emotional exhaustion and cynicism and burn-out more generally.

Questions that you can ask yourself to promote resiliency: are you continually developing and challenging yourself?  Do you have a support network?  Are you aware of both internal and external life stressors?  Are you taking time to pause and re-group daily?  Are you taking time to do things in life that you enjoy?  Do you pro-actively manage your energy and find ways to replenish?

If you find yourself short on patience and focus, and your listening is easily distracted, these may be early warning signs.   Daily and habitual behaviors  like “task-switching” with little awareness leaves you cognitively maxed and tired at the end of the day.

At the team level, operating norms foster transparency and consistent ways of doing things.  This improves efficiencies and supports collaboration because people know what to expect and how to support one another – they know their “tribe” and have high trust.

Questions for the team to support effectiveness: are team protocols in place, communicated, and reinforced?  Do people know one another’s strengths and roles?  Is there a process for how work gets done when team members step away from the day to day or need help?  Is there an escalation process for decision-making?  Are meeting norms in place and do others feel empowered and accountable?

Without a clear understanding of how teams operate it becomes difficult to maximize its potential – and for team safety to exist.  Sub-optimization and strained relations feed a cyclical boom and bust cycle.  A well-functioning team knows how to adapt and has high trust.

At the organizational level, the focus centers on policies and practices across the enterprise.  Every industry is a little unique with the stressors it experiences, and they may have more in common when it comes to healthy practices than one might think.

In professional services, for example, time is a commodity with billable hours the standard for how work gets done.  Healthcare looks at wait times and patient care.  Life sciences moves along a highly regulated drug development process.  How the organization creates the conditions to get the work done is a distinguisher between between employees who want to stay compared with those who are looking for a quick exit.

Questions that leaders at all levels can ask themselves to support the enterprise: are there practices in place that support well-being?  Are manager’s equipped to effectively coach and listen to their team members, empowering them rather than tolerating poor behaviors?  Do employee’s feel their contributions are valued?  Are leader’s transparent in what is happening in the organization?

There is increasingly greater awareness of harmful work stressors and their effects.  The Healthy Work Campaign at the Center for Social Epidemiology is one such organization that is finding solutions to unchecked practices through resources, tools, and support.

Managing stress and workplace health is more than a vacation – it is an on-going process and discipline.  Vacations are great.  They are necessary for a life well-lived.  Yet too many of us use this precious time as an escape.  We work to take a much needed vacation and then dread going back.  Imagine if we felt we can give our best everyday and where vacation is the icing on the cake?  Stress is not inherently bad just like calm is not necessary good.  We need stress to propel us. The opportunity is to EMBRACE and manage stress at multiple levels and in varying ways.  To do anything less is to risk individual and organizational success-a proposition that none of us want.