HR Professional
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By Vanessa Underman


Vacations are no longer a luxury - they are a necessity

Humans were designed to be able to manage stress. And although some stress is good for us, the new fast-paced world often leaves us in hyper-strained states for too long.


These abhorrent chronic stress levels hinder our physical and mental health. Our blood pressure and cholesterol rises; we are predisposed to insulin resistance which can lead to type two diabetes; our immune systems are suppressed and it seems we forget how to make our bodies sleep. With too much anxiety and depression, our mental function suffers not just at work, but even in the mundane things we do each day.

“Humans were never designed to have stress all the time. Our stress reactions were designed to be turned on and then off. That’s the healthy cycle. But today we operate in a semi-permanent state of stress,” said Dr. David Posen, author of Is Work Killing You? “Proper vacationing is an antidote to chronic stress. It is absolutely imperative that Canadians are vacationing each year – and not just one time per year.”


Dr. Posen advocates that Canadians should be vacationing three or four times per year. Ideally each quarter, employees should take a break to recharge. The majority of working Canadians are more stressed than ever before and regular breaks are imperative to restore balance between work and life. has been conducting their annual Vacation Deprivation survey for over ten years. As Canada’s leading online travel provider, the organization is committed to helping Canadians travel the world, and to do so they’re keen on understanding their market.


Sean Shannon, managing director at, oversees all’s Canadian operations and gets a front row view on the Vacation Deprivation survey’s results.


“We keep coming back and doing this survey because we find it so interesting,” said Shannon. “We do this survey all around the globe, and Canada and the United States could be the hardest working nations in the world.”


Due to legislation or cultural norms, other countries are banking much more vacation time than Canadians, with some Canadians not even taking their allotted amount of time off each year. According to the 2014 Vacation Deprivation survey, 48 per cent of Canadians are feeling vacation deprived, up from 40 per cent in 2013.


Canadians are getting worse at this. Vacation deprivation is on the rise. The correction needs to be encouraged in the workplace, and then mandated.


“What amazes me is the number of people who don’t take their full vacation time,” said Dr. Posen. “The survey actually showed that 90 per cent of Canadians said they would make sacrifices for just one more day of vacation time.”


Those theoretical sacrifices include giving up alcohol, television and one week without their smart phones.

Over one-third of Canadians have cancelled or postponed their vacation due to work responsibilities. When employees are healthier there is less absenteeism, less stress leave, less leaves of absence and less illness. A well-rested employee will even have improvements in concentration and short-term memory. By creating work environments that encourage taking proper vacation time, companies can significantly improve the wellbeing of their employees.


“Too much stress affects the brain cells’ ability to communicate with other cells,” said Dr. Posen. “One area affected is the hippocampus, where we store memory. When people are chronically stressed, this part of the brain doesn’t work as well. People become forgetful, especially regarding short-term memory.”


Seventy-eight per cent of Canadians report being more focused after vacation time, and 93 per cent feel more relaxed and rejuvenated.


Growing in popularity is the “use it or lose it” mandate that eliminates employees’ ability to carry over their vacation days, a subtle encouragement that vacations aren’t absolutely necessary. By taking the choice out of the employees’ hands, they can feel less guilty about leaving the workplace.


“I think everyone needs time off,” said Shannon. “The workplace has only gotten faster and more frantic thanks to technology. I remember leaving my place of employment and you really couldn’t do much. In the ‘80s, if Mr. and Mrs. Smith were away on vacation, that task would just have to wait. That is not the case now – no one will wait. The world keeps moving.”


And even though projects might not want to wait, it’s important to take a step back once in a while to recharge the mind’s batteries.


“Vacations are really important to allow the stress reaction to be turned off or turned down,” said Dr. Posen. “People need to recover, rejuvenate and decompress. Longer time-outs are important because we need extended time to recuperate. I believe we need at least three weeks of holidays [each year]. Two weeks probably used to be okay, but the world has gotten faster and more stressful.”


HR professionals can advocate for mandatory vacations in the workplace. By allowing a day of catch-up after an employee’s vacation, the employee won’t stress themselves out in their final days of vacation, and can use the full number of days they are allotted for a break.


By granting employees a gentle re-entry on their return, you are telling them they won’t be hit with a pile of work on their first day back. This is the power of permission.


And of course, HR professionals should lead by example and take their fully allotted vacation time as well.

Vacations are a prescription for health, stress relief, energy rejuvenation, reconnecting with family and friends and, perhaps most important of all: happiness. Eight per cent of Canadians associate vacation time with happiness.


“Hockey coaches don’t rest their star players out of benevolence,” said Dr. Posen. “They do it because they get better performances out of their athletes when they are properly recharged.”


  1. Five rules for a rejuvenating vacation
    Take all the vacation time you’re entitled to: all of it.
    Take your vacation time before you need it. Then you will never need it, you’ll just enjoy it. Otherwise, your vacation will become convalescence.
    Space your vacation time throughout the year so that you’re getting more frequent breaks, instead of one long one.
    Come back a day early. Give yourself one day at home to settle back into your routine before returning to work.
    Use the first day back at work for catch-up.
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