Guilt trip – the only major excursion for some Canadians this year

Increased work pressures brought on by a depressed economy have heightened stress levels in the workplace.

While taking time off work to rejuvenate is arguably one of the best ways to beat stress, it’s not high up on the priority list of many Canadian knowlege workers.

Nearly one quarter (24 per cent) of employed Canadians report not taking all of their vacation days, according to seventh annual Vacation Deprivation survey conducted by Harris/Decima.

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The survey reveals that despite receiving an average of 18.7 vacation days, this year Canadians will give back an average of 2.03 days of unused vacation time to their employers.

This translates into 34 million untaken days in Canada overall and about $6.03 billion in wages handed back to employers.

The survey also shows that Canadians are feeling even more vacation deprived this year compared to last, with 42 per cent of employed Canadians saying that they are very or somewhat vacation deprived, up from 33 per cent in 2008.

Experts say not taking vacation could have unhealthy consequences.

“Stress associated with the current economy and impact on the workplace makes the need for time away from work even more important,” notes Beverly Beuermann-King, stress and wellness expert. “Vacation Deprivation is a condition that continues to affect Canadians across the country and it’s essential for Canadians to invest in their health by taking a break and getting away.”

The Harris-Decima survey revealed some common barriers to taking a vacation. A busy work schedule appears to be the chief of these. For instance, many Canadians work more than 40 hours per week (37 per cent) with 13 per cent saying that their work is their life and are too busy to get away.

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A ‘guilt trip’ appears to be the only excursion some Canadians will make this year. One-third (30 per cent) of employed Canadians polled say they feel guilty about taking time off work. And not surprisingly, the recession is the key instigator of these emotions. Around 17 per cent of Canadians attributed their feelings of guilt around taking a vacation to the current economy.

These reservations about taking time off aren’t because Canadians don’t see value in vacations. Quite the contrary.

Many (41 per cent) say they return from vacations feeling better about their jobs and feeling more productive, and more than half (54 per cent) feel rejuvenated and reconnected to their personal life after taking vacations.

And ironically, while today’s tough times are triggering misgivngs about taking time off, one-in-five (18 per cent) Canadians feel that they need a vacation now more than ever because of the stress from the current economy.

The good news is eighty-four per cent still plan on travelling this year for vacation purposes.

The big question is whether that time off — will really be time off. It seems even when they do manage to get away, some Canadians have trouble escaping their workplace woes. Nearly nearly one-third of Canadians (32 per cent) polled admitted they have trouble coping with stress from work during the vacation cycle.

However, regardless of potential workplace worries, Canadians recognize the inherent benefits vacations have on their personal well-being and will continue to get away this year.

In the U.S. workplaces much the same situation prevails — with a big chunk of workers forfeiting some of their vacation days.

According to Expedia’s 2009 vacation survey, about one-third of U.S. workers don’t use all of their vacation. And an informal query of the CIO Forum on Facebook reveals a certain bitterness about vacation plans, or lack thereof.

“Vacation? Ha!” says Shawn Beighle, CIO of International Republican Institute, a nonprofit that helps to advance democracy worldwide. “My boss has been on me to take more time off, and though I know he’s sincere, there’s just too much to do.”

Others, though, have conceded that skipping vacation is counterproductive.

Constant work inhibits calm, clear thinking and the generation of fresh ideas, says Jason Paulsen, a project manager at MAC Cosmetics. “Vacation gives you a chance to come back to tasks with a new perspective and more energy.”

Jay Hall, manager of information systems at the Missouri National Education Association, a public school advocacy group, typically takes just 12 of his 25 allotted days off.

He sells back the rest but acknowledges “it takes a tremendous toll on my motivation at work.” When he does vacation, he’s exhausted, he says, adding that he once fell asleep while snorkeling in Jamaica.

The balance was similarly skewed at import-export firm GHY International until it actually forced its employees out the door. These days, GHY is considered among Canada’s best places to work, but in 2006 it was so bad that vice president of IT Nigel Fortlage took just 25 percent of his due time off and saw the rest of his group follow suit.

“IT was the worst for not taking holiday time,” he says. “And it took two years to get all holiday time caught up.” Despite smaller staffs and added pressure, the time to make a vacation push may be now. As busy as we are, the pace will quicken when the economy rebounds, notes Gartner’s Morello. CIOs should know that, she says, and keep their teams “refreshed” with regular time off.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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