Work Burnout Threatens Vacations

Employees Need More Breaks, Survey Suggests

Work Burnout Threatens Vacations

By Tom Musbach, Yahoo! HotJobs

Despite summer's reputation for being a time of travel and leisure, many US workers are not using all their vacation time and are too tired to plan a getaway, according to a Yahoo! HotJobs survey.

Nearly half of the respondents (49 percent) said they feel "burned out" by their jobs, and many did not fully use vacation time as a remedy. Out of 1,800 professionals surveyed, 45 percent said they did not use all of their vacation days allotted in 2006, and 39 percent said they were too tired to take a "real" vacation during their days off.

Why Create More Work?

There are several reasons workers don't use all their vacation time: having too much work to do to take a vacation (36 percent), not being able to afford a getaway (34 percent), wanting to save vacation time for emergencies (32 percent) and worrying about coming back to an excessive workload after a vacation (15 percent).

"I think people have thrown in the vacation towel," says Debra Davenport, a professional mentor, licensed career counselor and employment agent. "What's the point of taking a vacation when you're still strapped to your cellphone and laptop, and, worse, you return to the office from your break only to have 500 emails, 100 voicemails and weeks of work to catch up on?"

Taking a 'Mental Health Day'

When people do take time off, it's often used in ways unrelated to vacations. In fact, nearly a third of respondents (31 percent) said they use the time to run errands, such as doctor visits, and 30 percent said they often use vacation time as "mental health days" to cope with stress.

"The issue is making self-care a priority," says Davenport. "Vacations are an extension of that mindset."

The Problem of Presenteeism

Liz Bywater, president of Bywater Consulting Group, which specializes in organizational behavior change, suggests that elements of corporate culture may be responsible for the work-vacation imbalance.

"Part of the problem is that our culture supports an ethic of 'presenteeism,' whereby employees show up for work even when they are too ill or tired to be effective on their jobs," she says. "There is an expectation, sometimes unspoken, that people will come to work under all but the most extreme circumstances."

Making Vacation a Priority

Bywater offers the following tips for making the most of vacations:

  • Choose the Vacation That Best Meets Your Needs: You may need a peaceful retreat from stress, or you may benefit from something more active and exciting.  Avoid the kind of vacation that will leave you even more exhausted than before.
  • Plan Ahead for Your Time Off:  Take practical steps to manage your workload with your upcoming vacation in mind. Try to wrap up important projects before you leave. Don't leave behind time-sensitive tasks that only you can handle.
  • Enlist Help: Ask a trusted coworker to back you up while you're away and offer to return the favor. It's much easier to relax when you know someone's got you covered.
  • Have No Regrets. You earned the vacation, so enjoy it.