Most of us set our out-of-office automated e-mail replies for when we’re on vacation, but how many of us actually disconnect totally from checking our e-mails? Some of us end up working even while on vacation, out of fear that we’ll fall behind while out of the office. While this anxiety is very real, the results aren’t always as anticipated. Could it be that working harder can actually set us back, both in terms of health and job performance?

Even with a guaranteed minimum of 7 days of paid annual leave, many Singaporeans are feeling overwhelmed by work. Coping with high expectations and a workaholic culture, about 200 workers lodge complaints with MOM each year regarding “excessive working hours.” Even more, about 36% of workers put “more holidays and annual leave” as their top priority at the workplace (excluding pay raises). Perhaps the biggest issue is that vacations aren’t being fully utilised—if you’re taking shorter breaks and bringing work along with you, you may actually be damaging your work performance in the long-run.

Working on Vacation is Working for Free–At Your Financial Loss

According to research by British Airways, 64% of Singaporeans said their longest holiday in 2017 lasted less than 10 days, and 48% cited concern over a piling workload as the top reason for limiting their trip length. Does this sound familiar? In workplaces around the world, taking time off is often associated with missing out or falling behind. In Singapore, however, this goes a step further. Another study found that 9 out of 10 Singaporeans say they’re unable to fully switch off from work, and 42% work through their holidays.

If you’re taking shorter vacations and bringing work along with you, your time off suddenly becomes just another workday, regardless of your location. In fact, by forfeiting your guaranteed leave, you’re volunteering to work for free. Even if you work just 2-3 hours per day on your vacation, you substantially diminish the value of the paid leave you received. At this rate, the average worker would ‘donate’ S$1,029 to their company across 7 days—that’s nearly equal to the average cost of a vacation (at S$1,264)!

Even so, the question remains, will the value of your donated time earn positive feedback? While many people think this extra work will actually boost their reputation and success, there are several reasons why giving up relaxation time can actually be quite detrimental.

Depriving Yourself of Relaxation is Costly to Health & Productivity

One of the primary reasons for taking paid time off is to allow for mental rest and relaxation, by whichever means best fits you. Forgoing this respite and splitting your attention can be extremely detrimental—both physically and in terms of work performance.

Overworked employees—who aren’t taking time to rest–are far more likely to experience a host of negative health effects. Associated stress and sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of incident strokes, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, anxiety, insomnia, obesity and more. Research has even found that people with longer working hours tend to have poorer mental health and increased depression symptoms.

In the same vein, working without taking time to relax can lead to mistakes on the job, disengagement, and higher burnout rates (which, unsurprisingly, is linked to sub-optimal job performance). Workplace stress has also been linked to diminished creativity and initiative, decreased patience, and problems with interpersonal relationships. Given that Singaporean hirers rank on-the-job-skills, leadership traits, and performance/attitude as the top three factors for promotion, it becomes pretty clear that the impact of overworking can damage your chances at success.

Taking Your Vacation Can Actually Help You Get Ahead

Moving beyond all this negativity, there’s a silver lining to consider–taking your vacation and ‘living in the moment’ can actually help you, even in the workplace. According to the research by Harvard Business Review, 94% of vacations have a good “ROI” on performance after returning to work, especially in terms of energy and outlook. Vacationers who focus on relaxation and detachment from work also tend to enjoy a boost in health and wellness after returning home. While co-workers stay behind to push through extra assignments, consider this–work intensity is actually a strong predictor of unfavourable outcomes. Take a break, enjoy your vacation, and come back far more refreshed than your peers.

Tips to Maximise Your Vacation Recharge

In order to be truly relaxing, vacations should be well-planned and stress-free. Here are a few ideas of how you can make your travels a bit more rewarding and carefree.

Images: Unsplash
Text: Carrie Arndt / Value Champion / April 2019