The beneficial effects of a holiday on health and wellbeing fade out within just a fortnight of coming home, according to psychologists.
Research has found that workers return to the office happier, healthier and with more energy, particularly if their in-tray hasn’t built up too much in their absence, and are even better at solving problems.
However the improvements in a holidaymaker’s mood start to fade within the first week back, even before their suntans do, and after two weeks they are just as tired as they were before they jetted off.
But rather than giving up on holidays as a waste of time and money, academics say the solution – which may prove rather costly as well as unpopular with employers – is for staff to take time off more often.
Jessica de Bloom, a researcher in health psychology at Radboud University in the Netherlands, said: “Although the beneficial effects fade out quickly, not having any holidays/vacations would probably be very problematic because the strain would accumulate over time.
“Vacations give people the opportunity to (re)connect to family, partner and friends. They help us to ‘refill our batteries’, remain productive and perform on high levels.
“The fact that the after-effects are short-lived only emphasises that we should go on a vacation more frequently in order to keep our levels of health and well-being high.”
Her findings feature in a review by The Psychologist, the publication of The British Psychological Society, of existing studies on the mental and physical effects of taking a break from work.
She measured the well-being 96 Dutch workers two weeks before they went away, while they were on holiday, and for several weeks after their return.
Although the workers came back refreshed, most of the benefits faded away within the first week they were back at their desks and the longest-lasting effect, on fatigue, was gone after a fortnight.
Separate research involving 131 German teachers found that the benefits of taking a two-week Easter break – in feeling less tired and more engaged with work – had gone after a month, although the effects faded more slowly among those who were able to relax after school.
Other studies have found that getting away from it all can make trigger “leisure sickness”, with 3 to 4 per cent of those questioned claiming they suffered from illnesses more on holidays and weekends than at work. One researcher has even suggested that going away in a car and staying in a tent are linked to increase risk of heart attacks among people with existing problems.
But for those who only have a small amount of annual leave to take, and not enough money to go somewhere exotic, all is not lost.
Several studies have shown that the length of a holiday is not important and that happy memories will linger even if not every day is filled with excitement or relaxation.
Simon Kemp at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, questioning 49 holidaymakers, found that the mood of their “most memorable or unusual” 24 hours away set the tone for their overall memory of the vacation.
The “rosy-view effect” has also shown that people anticipate and recall holidays more than they actually enjoy them as they occur, since they forget the minor irritations at the airport or the hotel.
And when 26 German and Danish families were asked about their favourite parts of a trip by a researcher at Aalborg University, a common answer among parents and children was the simple act of sitting down together to enjoy an ice cream.