The HR News Wire: Long Weekends Reduce Stress More Than Vacations

August 09, 2019 by Josh Hrala

Welcome to The HR News Wire, a weekly series that explores some of newest research, insights, and opinions about HR issues impacting the workplace. This week, we take a look at a new survey that claims that employees have a bigger stress reduction over long weekends than they do with longer vacations. Enjoy!

We all know that taking time off work is a great way to recharge and refresh ourselves. Many of us, though, decide to take long vacations away from the office to do some traveling or get some rest with a good book.

But that may not be the best way to actually go about it, a new study by Cornerstone found. Instead, their results suggest that most people feel a bigger reduction in stress after a three-day weekend than they do after a longer break away from work.

What’s going on here? Let’s explore.

Burnout Is a Huge Problem

The Cornerstone team says that burnout is becoming an all too common issue in many workplaces across the country. In fact, they even report that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently classified burnout as a workplace hazard, making it an ‘official phenomenon’ that employers should work hard to reduce.

They also say that most employees spend around 2.6 hours per day checking email with many working then more than eight hours per day and going to an estimated 23 hours of meetings per week. If that sounds like a lot, it is!

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What’s all this have to do with long weekends, though? Good question. It really has to do with that amount of work that piles up when we’re not at the office.

For example, if you take a two-week vacation and manage to not check your email over that break – something that is becoming harder and harder to do – you’ll be greeted by about 10 days worth of emails, which, according to the previous estimate, equates to 26 hours of email checking once you get back into the office.

That’s a huge wave of work just waiting for your return. So much so, that it seems to negate all of the relaxing you just did. This is the core of the team’s findings.

The Survey

To see how this impacted real-life workers, the team surveyed 1,000 Americans about work-life balance and how long vacations helped or hindered their ability to balance their lives.

“The survey found 87% of workers believe that three-day weekends are actually better for stress relief than longer vacations,” Cornerstone reports.

“With a three-day weekend, workers can relax without worrying about what awaits them when they return. In fact, workers who take long vacations not only reported working longer hours upon returning to work, but they also became more stressed than they were before their break. About two-thirds of respondents also noticed more work for co-workers that were forced to pick up the slack.”

In other words, they found that most people – nearly all of them – found the amount of work waiting for them upon their return from a longer vacation to actually cause more stress than the vacation resolved. On the other hand, smaller breaks like three-day weekends helped reduce stress without creating that built up wave of work.

Despite the results, the team says that many workers still take longer breaks from work even though they know they will have more to do later.

Tips and Tricks

Given these findings, the team has also came up with some solutions for those that do take longer breaks. For example, they say that many workers try to completely disconnect from work over their break. While this is a good thing to do because it allows you to actually take a break and not just work from a different location, they caution that this is typically what leads to the build up of work waiting for us when we get back into the office.

They say that if managers are going to ‘go off the grid,’ they should try to move around deadlines and heavy projects so that not so many people will need to reach them.

By doing so, workers can either complete a project before going on vacation or they can complete it after.


Another thing is to make sure that work is delegated as much as possible to other people who will help pick up the slack during someone’s vacation.

“If an employee leads a team, they should be sure to schedule time to set expectations for how work will be distributed while they are away,” the team says.

“To stay organized and efficient, employees can organize their inboxes into folders so that important emails are flagged, while secondary materials like newsletters and company-wide emails are stored for a later date.”

The team also says that it’s important to recognize what steps to take when the employee gets back from vacation, too. Instead of checking email for an entire day, check-in or catch-up meetings with managers or other employees might be the way to go because it’s faster and – let’s face it – not as a stressful as going through a thousand notes in email-form.

Finally, they say that one of the best ways to beat burnout is to simply forego the longer vacation for a shorter week. The survey results are pretty clear in terms of the benefits of having a Friday or Monday off. By just taking a few days here and there – instead of lumping them together – workers can reduce stress, stave off burnout, and not be inundated with work upon their return.

The Key Takeaways

The key takeaway here is that long vacations, though the norm for most people, can actually increase burnout even though it allows for longer periods of rest. This is because work generally piles up during these vacations and can be a rude awakening when someone returns, putting them back in their burned out state.

On the other hand, the team found that three-day weekends help reduce stress while also not having a bunch of tasks go undone and, therefore, build up. The survey’s findings suggest that if someone is feeling burned out, they may want to take a Friday off or maybe even two Fridays in a row.

Managers and business leaders should take all of this into consideration because staving off burnout is a top priority in our ‘always on’ work culture.

Despite these results, many seem to want to take longer vacation anyway (this could be for travel and things like that). And that’s completely fine as long as workers try to come up with ways to reduce the amount of work they will have on their plates when they come back. This can be done in a myriad of ways, many of which we list above.

Read the full survey here for more information.

What do you think about longer vacations? Do you notice an increased workload when you return? If you do, what are your tips and tricks to make sure that you don’t burn out? Let us know.

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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