Schedule Your (Mini)Vacations Now

It's Never a Bad Time To Plan a Little Time Away

Jan 18, 2019
Management

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  Does the start of the year have you dreaming of your next vacation? Or perhaps you’re lamenting the unused vacation days you lost at the end of 2018. Either way, there’s no time like January to plan out your vacation strategy for the year.

Use them, don’t lose them

Every year, more than half of American workers end the year with unused vacation time (cumulatively, 705 million days in 2017, according to Project: Time Off’s 2018 State of American Vacation report). Start planning now to avoid leaving time on the table.

Your vacations don’t need to be long to be effective, says Gilad Chen, a management professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “Personally, I’m more of a fan of mini-vacations than long vacations because I’m the kind of person who gets stressed if I have a lot that piles up. But some people really do need those longer stretches off to shut off and recharge.”

How we feel about vacation varies widely, based in part on our work, goals and motivations for taking time away. But Chen says having some kind of vacation from work -- whether short or long -- is critical. If you need a longer vacation, he suggests planning it around the holidays or in the summer, when lots of other people are also taking off.

Vacation shouldn’t be stressful

 “I don’t necessarily think one is better than another,” Chen says. “The one caveat is, the longer the vacation, the more stressful the return is, because then you have more work piled up. Some people don’t get stressed by that. But there is some research that shows people who take longer vacations start getting stressed the last few days they are away, and they are stressed when they get back, so it’s almost like the positive effects of the whole vacation are wiped out.”

Chen can relate. For that reason, he likes to plan shorter weekend trips or midweek days off. He says it’s not even necessary to go somewhere. He recommends using the time off to relax, tackle personal errands or do something fun near home. It can be a lot easier to disconnect for a short break, says Chen, depending on when you take it. Obviously, he says, don’t take time off – even a few days – if you’re in the middle of a big project or facing a looming deadline.

A lot rides on the job

Your organization’s culture has a lot to do with when you can take off and the extent to which you can actually unplug and escape work during your vacation, says Chen. “Some organizations are very flexible, so people understand if you’re not available for a few days. In other organizations you always need to be ‘on’ and people expect immediate responses, so you have to manage time off differently with anyone who usually depends on you -- your boss, the people you manage, your clients.”

Chen says, depending on the type of work you do, you may not be able to plan out a year’s worth of vacation at once. “Some jobs allow you more opportunity for long-term planning than others.”

Give yourself a break

Even if you can’t plan your vacation days for the next six months or year, everybody needs time off, says Chen. “In a very micro sense, you at least get it in sleep,” he jokes.

“Really, what we’re talking about are the downsides and upsides of technology,” Chen says. With technology, you can attend an event for your child, show up for an out-of-town celebration, or vacation with your family -- all while still devote time to maintaining a close connection with the office. “But the fact that you are setting aside time catching up means you’re not really away, either,” he says. “That’s the catch-22 with technology. It used to be you leave the office, and that’s it. Now the office goes with you on your phone.”

Chen says you can personally control how rejuvenating any length of time off can be by planning ahead to minimize your stress and workload when you return. “How and where you allocate your time really matters,” he says. “That’s something everyone can control and manage more effectively.”

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About the Expert(s)

ChenGilad

Dr. Gilad Chen is the Robert H. Smith Chair in Organization Behavior, at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. He received his bachelor degree in Psychology from the Pennsylvania State University in 1996, and his doctoral degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from George Mason University in 2001. Prior to joining the Smith School, Dr. Chen was on the faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University, and a visiting scholar at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Technion, and Tel-Aviv University.

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