Plenty of research shows that taking time off work enables people to rejuvenate from the stress of it and therefore rejuvenate their productivity potential. Studies have looked at manual labor and the benefit of taking weekends off as well as office settings where knowledge workers reported higher productivity after a two-week vacation.
Many knowledge workers have some choice in when they take time off and how much they take at a time. So, for the purpose of rejuvenation, is it better to take one or two long vacations a year or many three-day weekends and shorter periods of time off? In other words, do we see significant benefits from long getaways, or is it better to have shorter getaways more frequently?
The bad news is that I haven’t found any research that looks specifically at frequency and length of time off.
The good news is we know what qualities of time off make it effective for recovery:
- We need to have control over what we do in our time off. Having to take care of others or deal with typical life hassles does not allow for recovery. But when we get to choose what we do with our time off, we do recover.
- Relaxation seems to be a major factor, too. I see a lot of ties between “relaxation” and “control.” What one person finds relaxing may be stressful to another. So in a sense, doing something relaxing requires having control to choose the activity.
- Finally, the issue of detaching from work always comes up in conversations about recovering from work, but the findings aren’t clear or consistent. Some researchers say detaching from work is necessary. Others have found little effect on their results. And still others suggest that, with increasing gray area between work and life, whether, how, and to what extent one chooses to detach from work while on vacation is up to that person. (Again, it boils down to having agency.)
My best guess at whether it’s better to take one or two long vacations or frequent short ones is… it depends on what you prefer. As long as you have control over taking that time off, you’re probably going to get plenty of value from it.
Image by Jenny Downing, CC.