Blogpost by Jienan Chen
July 20, 2022
Many of you are likely planning on taking a vacation this month. While they are seen as frivolous, taking vacations are actually beneficial to our health. For example, they break up the monotony of managing several tasks at once in the workplace, which can cause stress and fatigue. They also provide some time for catching up on sleep and exercising. Additionally, studies show that vacations can help employees be more productive. This is because when we are removed from stress, our thinking changes; as David Suzuki puts it in an episode of The Nature of Things on play, “the freedom to be active outside also frees the imagination.” Thus, we often can come up with solutions to problems that seemed behemoth-like. Vacations provide opportunities for families to spend some time together and have fun too; today, the tempo of life is often so quick that this is hard to do. With all this said, research suggests that Canadians do not take enough breaks from working.
In early 2020, a then recent study shed light on the fact that Canadians received 10 days of paid vacations and 9 days of paid statutory holidays. That is 19 days off in total. Contrast that with Spain at 39 days, or even Japan—famously known for its emphasis on work, whose workers averages 25 days of leave. After the pandemic started a tidal wave of employees working-from-home, a December 2020 online survey of 860 Canadians showed that 49% of working Canadians were either taking less vacations, or none in that holiday season. 25% of workers did not use any of their time off at all. What appears to have happened was that due to work-from-home, work and personal time started to meld together for many people. By February 2022, Expedia observed in a study of their own that 55% of respondents felt vacation-deprived and 71% felt burned out. But, aside from the still-present COVID-19 virus that caused the lockdown, there must be additional reasons for why Canadians seem to work so much and play so little.
Melissa Clark—an associate professor at the University of Georgia studying workaholism—believes that the culprit is, in part, legislation that enforces this behaviour in North America. In our workaholic culture, people have grown to accept the idea that working is more important than anything else—such as relaxing and playing. Canadian law decrees that we get a minimum of 10 days of vacation per year, and that has become the standard for many employers. However, there is a vast difference between a legislated minimum standard versus an optimal standard intended to balance the needs of the workplace for productivity with worker well-being.
When workers observe a workplace culture that emphasizes work over life balance, this culture becomes self-perpetuating: people who are uncertain about the appropriateness of taking vacations in their workplace observe and assume the decisions of others around them in order to fit in to those cultures. And Canada has a culture of overwork. In 2005, Statistics Canada found that 31% of working Canadians describe themselves as workaholics. Ten years later, the Agnus Ried Institute surveyed mostly managers and executives Canadians. 60% of the respondents reported that they worked overtime, and half of them by choice.
Unfortunately, a 2014 Stanford study concluded that overworking is pointless. Workers who work more than fifty hours a week become unproductive. After fifty-five hours per week, one’s productivity has decreased to the extent that putting in any more time is inutile. Furthermore, a 2018 Insider article summarized the results of a City University of London study on this subject as “harmful to both [one’s] career prospects and [one’s]overall well-being.” With all of this in mind, does taking a vacation not seem (more) alluring?
As Clark suggests, workaholism seems to be engrained in our culture. Therefore, it may be necessary for employers to encourage their employees to take vacations. Strategies include limiting vacation accumulations and rollovers for employees to take their holiday in the allotted time, and employers going on vacations themselves—to serve as examples. In the end, it should feel acceptable for employees to take vacations, and Expedia reports that, according to their research, 33% of Canadians feel that they must apologize or create excuses to take some time off. Additionally, 39% feel guilty to have their colleagues cover for them. In this regard, employers should schedule their employees’ workflow in a way where those who go on holiday and those who are working feel no pressure. Some employees are concerned about losing money and having a lot of work to catch up on due to taking a vacation. In this case, employers can allow them to take “mini-vacations”—to work half-days or enjoy a few long weekends a few times per year.
Since a break from working should be just that, Expedia names some bad habits that we should break to enjoy a vacation. For instance, we should avoid leaving our contact information in our out-of-office email replies. It should be accepted that one can go to Waikiki Beach or Manitou Beach and not answer any work-related calls. And Expedia’s study indicates that 37% of Canadians feel uneasy about doing nothing “productive” for a while. By this point in this blogpost, I think that we can all acknowledge this thought in this manner: by not doing any “productive” work while on vacation, we are re-energizing—either by laying in the sun like solar panels or enjoying the breezes like wind turbines—and preparing ourselves to be productive once we return to work.
For more information on the topics mentioned in this blogpost, consider checking these resources:
Canadian Workers Get Fewer Paid Vacation Days Than Nearly Any Other Country in the Industrialized World