According to Prof. Dov Eden, an organizational psychologist from Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Management, the key to a quality vacation is to put work at a distance. And keep it there.
"Using work cell phones and checking company email at the poolside is not a vacation. Persons who do this are shackled to electronic tethers which in my opinion is little different from being in jail," Prof. Eden said.
For the past decade, Prof. Eden has been studying 'respite effects,' which measure relief from chronic job stress before, during, and after vacations away from the workplace.
He said that electronic connectivity exacts a price from those who stay wired into the office while away from work. It marks the end of true 'respite relief' and is a cause of chronic job stress.
"If I were a manager, I would insist that my employees leave their cell phones at work during vacation and not check their email while away. In the long run, the employee will be better rested and better able to perform his or her job because true respite affords an opportunity to restore depleted psychological resources," Prof. Eden said.
"Employees who feel compelled to be at the beck and call of work at all times are unlikely to recover from the ill-effects of chronic job stress. This is a causal chain that eventually gets internalized as psychological and behavioural responses that can bring on serious chronic disease," he added.
For the study, Prof. Eden and his team surveyed 800 professors from eight universities in Israel, the U.S., and New Zealand. The researchers measured stress and strain before, during, and after a sabbatical leave of a semester or a whole year.
They discovered that those who took a long sabbatical break experienced about the same amount of relief (and returned to pre-sabbatical levels of stress and strain in just about the same amount of time) as people who had taken either a weeklong or long-weekend vacation.
Stress and psychological strain before, during, and after the respite were measured using a questionnaire and those on sabbatical were compared to a similar group of university academics that did not go on sabbatical.
Prof. Eden observed that whether a vacation was as short as a long weekend or as long as a year, within three weeks back at work (and possibly even before that), the respite-relief effect had virtually washed out.
"Among many employees we have studied over the years we have found that those who detach from their back-home work situation benefit the most from their respite. Moreover, these individuals are probably less likely to experience job burnout. It's the ones who can't detach from the constant flow of job demands that are most likely to burnout," Prof. Eden said.
Prof. Eden's most recent findings were presented at the last biannual meeting of "Work, Stress and Health" in Miami, an event sponsored by the American Psychological Association.