take a vacation to avoid burnout

11 Tips to Take a True Vacation and Recover from Burnout

Anne Shaw

Take a vacation to avoid burnout…you may read this title and think that the vacation, itself, is all you need to recover from burnout and find your groove at work. But it’s not quite that simple – especially now. The pandemic has not only complicated travel but also blurred the lines between work and home, making it harder than ever to truly unplug.

In a recent study, The Hartford found that work-life balance remains a top stressor for employees, likely due to the increased need to care for – and even teach – family members while still holding down a full-time job. Debt and economic concerns have also increased during the pandemic. Thankful to have held onto their jobs, many people may be feeling guilty about taking time off this summer. But don’t underestimate the power of a vacation.

Remember, if you’re feeling refreshed, you’ll not only be a better version of yourself, but also a more effective employee. Here are our top tips for unplugging from work, taking your vacation, and helping to cure burnout so you can return to work ready to go.

Does a Vacation Help Burnout?

With employees working more hours and trying to balance more responsibilities, burnout is at an all-time high. A few months prior to the pandemic, one company surveyed its employees and found that 42% were burned out. A few months after COVID-19’s arrival on the scene, they decided to ask the same question. Their findings: Employee burnout had shot up by more than 70%.

A recent survey from The Hartford found that 61% of U.S. workers are experiencing burnout at work.

So, how can we as individuals play a part in reducing burnout? We can take vacations. Stress plays a large role in causing burnout, and vacation – a true escape from work – relieves stress. Mental health professionals back this up.

“Workers who take regular time to relax are less likely to experience burnout, making them more creative and productive than their overworked, under-rested counterparts,” says Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., President & CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

“Everyone needs a break to decompress. It helps them focus on why they work,” says Donavan McDonald, a leader in the staffing industry. “When people spend time focusing on other important parts of life besides work, they come back refreshed. So, when I see my people online while they’re on vacation, I encourage them to actually be on vacation.”

So, taking a vacation won’t just help you – it’ll also benefit your employer when you return as a more productive employee. That’s part of the reason paid vacation days (PTO) are included in most benefits packages, so use those vacation days. Don’t throw that valuable resource away.

How to Prepare at Work for a Relaxing Time Away

To reap all the benefits of vacation, you must take a real vacation – one during which you don’t join meetings remotely or even answer work emails. To give yourself a better chance at achieving that work-life balance, properly prepare yourself and your colleagues. Try these tips:


Identify your backup.

Consider which of your coworkers can best hold down the fort while you’re away. Ask if they’re willing to be your official backup contact and offer to return the favor next time they take some time away.


Set an effective “out of office” message. 

To feel more comfortable not checking your email, include this key information: the date you’ll return, whether you’ll have access to email (if possible, just say that you won’t!), and whom to contact in your absence.

If your workplace culture allows, make it fun by sharing where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing – something like: “Wish me luck as I try to keep up with my friends on the slopes!” If people can imagine you on a real vacation, they may be less likely to interrupt you. In fact, each time I’ve included a real-life peek into my whereabouts and activities, multiple people have responded to my OOO (out of office) by wishing me a happy vacation and urging me not to return their email until I get back.


Provide emergency contact information.

Keyword: emergency. Only give emergency contact info to those you can trust with it. This means colleagues who understand what an actual emergency is and who will only call you if truly needed.

Also, make sure they know which time zone you’ll be in if you’re traveling a long distance. Then enjoy your peace of mind – if you’re not hearing anything, then you don’t need to be. Rest easy and enjoy yourself.

“During my most recent vacation, I did my best to draw boundaries with family and with folks at work, but was still available if something important came up.”

Annie Junker, office manager and social media strategist for a boutique real estate firm


Prepare for a positive return

When you prepare well for your return, then you can think less about it. You won’t have to dread getting back because you’ll have given yourself the gift of good preparation.

So, look ahead. Before you leave for your time off, make a list of helpful notes and priorities for your first day back. Try to keep an open schedule with minimal meetings the day you return too. You might even leave yourself a little treat at your desk for an extra boost. Finally, if you’re traveling, consider taking one extra day off to unpack and regroup.

“I go through my emails just before getting back so I can prioritize what I need to get to first thing. That way I have a strategy for my return rather than reacting to whoever gets to me first.”

Donavan McDonald, an SVP in the staffing industry


Prevent work brain

If you work with friends whom you chat with outside work hours, politely ask them not to update you on work happenings while you’re on vacation. After all, even a funny work story can take your head out of the vacation game.

“Sometimes it’s about personally letting go. If I hadn’t checked in during my last vacation, what would have gone differently? Probably not much. Things may not have been done exactly the way that I would have done them, but they still would have gotten done.”

Donavan McDonald, an SVP in the staffing industry

Truly Unplug and Banish Burnout

family vacation to avoid work burnout

Now that you’ve prepped well for a real break from work, it’s time to actually enjoy yourself! Get in touch with the side of you that isn’t making to-do lists, following up on projects and brainstorming ideas. And if you’re feeling tempted to check in at work, just remember that by taking a real break, you’ll come back more productive and creative. Below are some tips for a refreshing reset.


Get outside.

Studies that show the benefits of time outdoors are plentiful. Even spending time in residential green space has been shown to reduce one’s risk for psychiatric disorders.

Consider finding some nature trails nearby or even just set up a hammock in your yard to enjoy some time outside. Bonus points if you leave your phone behind.


Spend time on personal hobbies.

Read novels from your favorite genre. Build something. Paint. Whatever tickles your fancy, dive in! Get creative and inspired.


Practice mindfulness.

Bonus: This will benefit you when you return to work too.

Doing so can make you happier and healthier, both mentally and physically. Whether you want to try mindful eating – chewing slowly while considering the flavors, textures, sounds, even where the ingredients came from and who might have grown them – or full-on meditation, practicing mindful exercises can give you a clearer, more focused mindset.


Satiate your curiosity.

Learn something new! Watch a TED talk, take an online course or try a new board game. This keeps your mind working in other ways and may give you a strategic edge when you get back.


Minimize other “work.”

Try not to use vacation days simply to get other things done. If you come back to work from your vacation feeling like you need another vacation, then you missed the point entirely. If you can help it, plan for at least a couple days of true escape.


Go somewhere new (if you can safely do so).

Even if you just travel to a nearby rental, getting out of your regular pad can be freeing. Not only are you leaving your work inbox behind, but also the pull of regular chores and home projects that may lure you away from taking a fulfilling vacation.

“Sometimes I find it’s easier to unplug if I’m out of the country”

Donavan McDonald, an SVP in the staffing industry

When we take a break from the stresses of work and daily life, we often come back with a fresh perspective and new appreciation for our normal day-to-day. Don’t be surprised if you return with a wellspring of good ideas, inspired motivation, and better overall wellbeing. Just don’t forget to turn off your out of office message upon your return.

Many people have daydreamed about that first post-pandemic vacation. Where are you headed this summer; even if your home is your vacation hot spot. Let us know in the comments below.

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