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Opinion: Give it a rest — vacation like you mean it

Adventures in Ink

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The plane descended into New York City, passing through the clouds as Ellis Island came into view. We spent four days in the city before driving the eastern coast to spend half a week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with our toes in the sand.

It was one of my most enjoyable vacations, and I returned to work the following Monday feeling refreshed. I’m certain part of that had to do with the fact that the Friday before I left, I made an announcement: “I will not check my phone. I’ve disconnected my email from my phone. If you absolutely need something, text and I’ll respond when I get back to the hotel.”

I kept that promise the entire week, and work was honestly the last thing on my mind. I was totally disconnected, something studies say actually makes for healthier and more productive employees. Yet, a study by Glassdoor indicates 66 percent of Americans admit to working while on vacation. 

See, the thing we forget is that the adult brain is still wired to “play.” The late Patrick Bateson, a professor of ethology at University of Cambridge, had defined “play” as anything that is not serious or work-related. Boston College professor Peter Gray also categorizes it as “self-chosen and self-directed.”

Taking time to play is a rule commonly applied to pediatric psychology but neglected as we mature. However, we still need to take time off seriously. Additionally, because the psyche also impacts our physical health, properly taking a break affects all areas of our well-being. That includes workplace wellness and the ability to use our minds at full capacity on the clock.

In a Harvard Business Review article, University of Pennsylvania Management Professor Steward Friedman says long hours at work, little vacationing and being consistently connected on digital devices are “harmful to your relationships, your health and also your productivity.”

The inability to properly disconnect and vacation can become a disease – we commonly call it being a “workaholic.” There are even clinical rehabilitation programs for individuals who have become addicted to work. Certainly, this is an extreme case. However, not properly taking a break can still have major health implications.

More commonly, the implication is burnout. This is an important point that needs redefinition.

Burnout is indiscriminate – even an individual who loves their job can experience this. It’s not something to be ashamed of or to sweep under the carpet, and it’s not reflective of an employee’s dedication or determination.

Burnout is even identified in mainstream medicine as a clinical condition. It is included in the research lexicon thanks to psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who defined it as a “loss of motivation, growing sense of emotional depletion and cynicism” when the demands of a job exceed the stress threshold.

Burnout impacts professional performance, social competence and attributes to chronic psychosocial stress. It also can overwhelm cognitive skills and the neuroendocrine system, according to scientific journal Psychological Science.

Research by the American Psychological Association says money, workplace and family responsibility are the top three sources of stress among U.S. adults.

Statistica Inc. indicates that 13 percent of surveyed adults had problems unwinding in the evenings or on weekends in 2017, and 14 percent knew a relative or close friend who was diagnosed with burnout.

The result? Statistica estimates more than one third of employees lose at least one hour a day in productivity while nearly one third miss three to six days per year because of stress.

These statistics are reflective of a culture that has forgotten how to properly rest on a daily basis. See, we can’t wait for vacation to take a break – a couple weeks a year is not enough; it has to start when 5 p.m. comes.

If a business truly values the health of its employees, it will value healthy boundaries. Company culture should promote a mindset that follows a quote by pilot and missionary Jim Elliot: “Wherever you are, be all there.”

So when you are on the clock, word your hardest. When you’re off the clock, enjoy it. Unplug from social media and disconnect your work email when you’re on vacation. Use your lunch break.

Do what it takes to be the best you can be in every aspect.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Hanna Smith can be reached at hsmith@sbj.net.

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