Taking Time to Disconnect (and Connect): The Benefits of a Vacation

If ever there was a time when I have valued the privilege of having vacation time, it is now. In 5 days I will be on vacation and I am in desperate need of the opportunity to disconnect from work, connect with my husband, and to experience some pure, unfettered leisure.

vacation

This academic term has felt a little long. The first week of class in January was great, but then there was a 3-week faculty strike/lockout, followed by an 11-week compressed academic term without the usual study break. Not having a break in the term was an eye-opener for me. I believe I always appreciated the break, but it wasn’t until I didn’t have one that I really understood all the different ways that not having a break can impact a person. Usually, I return from break refreshed… ready for the last few weeks of the term – excited about the remaining lectures and with a renewed interest in engaging my students in discussion. This year, I found myself hoping for snow days (and I got some). I found myself dreading delivering topics I  knew would generate debate and discussion. I wondered what was happening… why had something I enjoyed so much begun to feel like a chore. It wasn’t my students – I have been blessed with two wonderful collections of undergraduate students in my classes this term. Many have been eager to share their ideas, contribute to the discussions, and even educate me about things I don’t know about (various new technology trends I was unaware of). As I reflected on what was happening, I realized I was exhausted – physically, intellectually, and emotionally. Those few days in March that I take every year – usually to visit and play with my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces – have been more critical to my teaching and work satisfaction than I ever realized. And so, as I head off on my after-the-term-is-over vacation (which is actually my honeymoon), I’m thinking seriously about how to approach it.

Disconnecting from Work (Unplugging)

One of my decisions is that I am going to “unplug” – no email, Facebook, Twitter, or blogging for the time I’m away. In part, I feel this is an important decision if I hope to “connect” and stay connected with my husband while we’re honeymooning. I’ve had some interesting reactions to this as I prepare to leave work behind for 16 days. A few colleagues are surprised that I will not be checking email while I’m away – What if I miss out on an opportunity? What if something becomes harder to deal with after I get back because I didn’t “nip it in the bud” while I was on vacation? I was asked if I could Skype or conference call in for a thesis defense – a request that I use technology to allow me to be flexible in my availability while on vacation. And so I quickly could see the penetration of technology into the vacation time – something that has become more common and can create conflict for employees when they are looking to take the vacation time to which time they are entitled (Pearce, 2011; White & White, 2007). Thankfully, my fear of missing out isn’t that great and I figure that if a problem grows while I’m gone, I’ll be well rested to deal with it when I get back (and maybe, it will solve itself in my absence… quite simply, I don’t think I’m that important). However, I have experienced the tension or conflicting feelings about vacation created by technology and the ability to be constantly connected.

Benefits of Taking Vacation

Research has shown that vacation and vacation activities produce a variety of positive health and well-being benefits (De Bloom, Geurts, & Kompier, 2012). Some studies have found that after individuals take vacation, they experience a decline in job stress and burnout (Westman & Etzion, 2001) and increased levels of happiness and life satisfaction (Gilbert & Abdullah, 2004). Other studies indicate that these benefits are short-lived – generally found to be experienced for only up to two weeks after one returns before the fade effect begins (Nawijn, Marchand, Veenhoven, & Vingerhoets, 2010). If it is the case that the positive benefits of vacation fade after a relatively short period of time (and this does seem to be the case for at least some individuals), then an argument could be made for the importance of “unplugging” for the time you are on vacation and taking full advantage of the benefits experienced while you are away from work (e.g., feelings of escape and relaxation, boosts in mood and happiness). If you do not embrace the vacation experience, the risk is that the benefits may not be realized at all.

In some cases, individuals are choosing to go into a “technology dead zone” for vacation. Apparently, tourism in technology dead zones can provide individuals an excuse to “unplug” and a chance to be more present, have other types of sensory experiences, and evaluate the value of being “plugged in” and connected (Pearce & Gretzel, 2012). Not a bad idea.

Disconnecting from work also means you have more opportunities to connect with those with whom you are on vacation. For me, connecting with my husband is an important activity for this vacation. Again, I turn to the research which suggests that vacations and travel can strengthen family bonds, can improve the quality of relationships, and can even strengthen marriages and reduce the likelihood of divorce (Petrick & Huether, 2013). I have not been able to find any research that explores how those outcomes could be impacted if one member of the family is checking and replying to emails (social or work), checking Facebook, or replying to text messages, but I would hypothesize that it might be more difficult to be fully present and engaged with family if these activities are a part of the daily vacation routine. It is possible that if individuals can set some good boundaries (get up and check/reply to messages before their partner or family members wake up), perhaps the “connection” or relationship benefits of vacation could still be realized. I do wonder, though, whether the personal benefits (e.g., happiness, relaxation) would still be maintained. Why risk it though?

I’m looking forward to leaving work behind – it is not something I have done for this period of time (16 days) in my working life to date. I feel fortunate that I’m able to contemplate a vacation where disconnecting is possible. I do recognize that some individuals run their own businesses and so disconnecting is simply not possible if their livelihood is to remain active. There are individuals working in countries or who work in organizations where paid vacation time is not provided. Even if individuals in those circumstances  may be able to get away, it could be with an expectation that they continue to work. Other individuals go on vacation leaving behind family members who are not healthy or who are struggling in one way or another. Worry about loved ones may follow them on vacation and circumstances may require checking in regularly. In other words, I recognize that my “struggle” about disconnecting is a problem I have because I am a privileged individual with some pretty ideal circumstances – at least at this particular time in my life. I do feel, however, that I am not alone in this struggle and so for others who face similar tensions around fully disconnecting while on vacation (even if only for a weekend) – hopefully I have offered some food for thought.

References:

De Bloom, J., Geurts, S. A. E., & Kompier, M. A. J. (2012). Effects of short vacations, vacation
activities and experiences on employee health and well-being. Stress & Health, 28(4), 305–318.

Nawijn, J., Marchand, M. A., Veenhoven, R., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2010). Vacationers happier, but most not happier after a holiday. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 5(1), 35-47.

Pearce, P.L. (2011). Tourist behaviour and the contemporary world. Bristol: Channel View.

Pearce, P. & Gretzel, U. (2012). Tourism in technology dead zones: documenting experiential dimensions. International Journal of Tourism Sciences, 12(2), 1-20.

Petrick, J. F., & Huether, D. (2013). Is Travel Better Than Chocolate and Wine? The Benefits of Travel A Special Series. Journal of Travel Research, 52(6), 705-708.

Westman, M.,& Etzion, D. (2001). The impact of vacation and job stress on burnout and absenteeism.
Psychology and Health, 16(5), 595–606.

White, N.R. & White, P.B. (2007) Home and away: Tourists in a connected world. Annals of Tourism Research, 34(1), 88-104.

 

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