How long does it take for the stress of our workdays to melt away on vacation? A new study proposes an exact answer: eight days. A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that we need to be taking eight-day vacations for us to experience the maximum benefits of a vacation. Otherwise, it can feel as if we never left our cubicles in the first place.
To have the best vacations, be like Goldilocks: not too long, not too short
To determine the ideal length of a vacation, researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen recruited 54 employees who would be going on vacation and used a questionnaire to measure their baseline health and happiness two weeks before they left. Then, throughout these participants’ vacations, researchers would call or text them with questions about their health, mood, energy and relaxation levels (at pre-arranged times, to prevent the study from ruining their vacation.)
What researchers found is that it takes us a few days to adjust to vacation life and fully unwind. Participants reported their health and well-being levels rapidly increased after the start of their vacations. You don’t need more than eight days vacation though, researchers found. Vacation highs peaked on day eight, and after that no increases to participants’ health and well being were recorded.
Unfortunately, the researchers’ results also found that these feelings of contentment were short-lived. Participants’ health and well-being levels would return to what they were before their vacation within the first week of going back to work.
The researchers suggested that the solution to maintaining our vacation high is to take more consistent, frequent vacations. “Instead of skipping vacations or taking only one long vacation in years, it seems much more reasonable to schedule several shorter vacations across a work year in order to maintain high levels of [health and well-being],” the study states.
Workaholics take note: Your three-day weekend won’t cut it
These results are one more data point against workaholism. Deciding how long your vacation should be can be a heated debate for workaholics who already feel guilty for taking any time off. And research has shown that Americans are particularly anxious about being seen as undedicated for the crime of taking time off. The U.S. Travel Association found that more than one in four Americans didn’t take a vacation because they feared being seen as a slacker. The 2017 Project: Time Off investigation into American vacation habits suggested “work martyrdom” is also a reason Americans feel like they cannot take time off.
When you identify as a work martyr, you believe that no one else can do your job and if you’re not working, you’re showing that you can be replaced. Under this guilty mindset, workers may feel like they can only take quick vacations. But as this study shows, taking longer, regular vacations are needed to recharge energies and prevent burnout — especially with the ever-present digital tether to work buzzing in our purses and pockets.
“Employees are often unable to recover sufficiently during short respites from work due to increasingly permeable boundaries between work and home domains, long working hours, working overtime and prolonged physiological activation as a result of pre-occupation with work,” the researchers found. “Therefore, a longer period away from work may be needed to fully recover from work.”