Is a Long Vacation or Short Break Better?

While you might dream of a European-style month-long escape from work, many Americans say the three-day weekend is the best way to beat burnout and hit the right balance of work and play.

A full-on vacation may sound like a good idea, but not everyone thinks so, in part because of what it entails—a bunch of preparation and, potentially, a whole lot of guilt.

In fact, most people don’t use all their vacation time.  In a study by the firm Bankrate, only 28 percent of respondents said they expect to max out their vacation days, and 4 percent didn’t have any plans to take a vacation at all. But when employees do look to get away,  opinions vary on what constitutes the optimal vacation length.  What’s best: an extended weekend or a weeks-long escape?

The Case for a Full-On Holiday

In Europe, month-long vacations, or “holidays,” are common, especially in August. It’s a model that companies and employees in the U.S. should consider emulating, argues a recent piece in The Economist.

“The predictability of the season means that companies can adjust their plans accordingly,” the report notes. “Even those people who are in the office can enjoy an easier pace of life. Most of their customers and suppliers are on a break so there is not much that anyone can do.”

It notes that the length of time away allows for work issues to be left behind for extended periods, while the shorter trips common in the U.S. can be more stressful.

“A high proportion of the vacation period is spent traveling to and from the desired destination,” says the article. “No sooner do you arrive than you have to think about packing for the trip back.”

the beauty of the short break

However appealing the idea of getting away for weeks at a time might be, most Americans  seem to find that shorter trips provide the pick-me-up they need. A recent survey from the talent management firm Cornerstone found that 87 percent of respondents considered three-day weekends more stress-relieving than longer trips, in part because they don’t have a mountain of work waiting for them when they get back to the office.

“With a three-day weekend, workers can relax without worrying about what awaits them when they return,” the company notes in its magazine, ReWork. “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 coworkers that were forced to pick up the slack.”

However, research suggests that some workers take short vacations because they believe they can’t take a longer one.  According to Forbes, a study by Allianz Global Assistance found that more than half of leisure trips (57 percent) last four days or less.

“The younger you are, the likelier you are to take a short vacation,” contributor Christopher Elliott wrote.

The best strategy for a short getaway is to make those days count, according to a UCLA study. Benefiting from a brief escape “had more to do with the fact that once nudged out of their normal weekend routine, [the person] spent the weekend being more present in whatever they were doing,” a news release stated.

(Tatomm/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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