Clark Griswold: “Despite all the little problems it’s fun isn’t it?”
Ellen Griswold: “No. But with every new day, there’s fresh hope.”
National Lampoon’s Vacation
Like a lot of lawyers, you may have gone on vacation, or perhaps you plan to go on vacation.
So, what constitutes a vacation? Of course, lawyers love definitions, so Merriam-Webster suggests: “a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation, a scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspended, a period of exemption from work granted to an employee, a respite or a time of respite from something.”
So, did this actually happen? Did you totally go off the grid for that period when you had a choice? Probability suggests you checked your email, perhaps late at night or first thing in the morning before the family woke. A little quality time with your iPad perhaps.
Why do people go on vacation? Change of pace? To get away from it all? Family pressure? To de-stress?
Perhaps you hope that this de-stress hormone lasts for as least as long as the vacation itself. Or that you can you store the de-stress hormone up as easily as the extra weight you may have put on from the extra consumption of alcohol, fats and carbohydrates that you would have otherwise avoided.
In a 2018 American Psychological Association survey of more than 1500 U.S. workers, two-thirds of the respondents said that the mental benefits of vacation disappeared within a few days. So, the vacation calmness disappears far before the weight loss does.
The reasons for increased après-vacation stress can be obvious. The workload undoubtedly accumulated in your absence, things moved on during your gallivanting. Now you must move double-time to catch up and all of that stress-filled time you spent before the vacation appears not to have been enough to keep you ahead.
If you feel stressed before the vacation and even more stressed after the vacation, then one starts to wonder about the efficacy of going on vacation in the first place.
This becomes a good time to talk about burnout. In the 2015 edition of Acta Psychopathologica, work-related stress occurs when the demands of the work environment exceed the employees’ ability to cope. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 states that disorders precipitated by specific stressful and potentially traumatic events in the workplaces are included in a new diagnostic category, “trauma and stress-related disorders.” Mind you, this abstract was dealing with the police in Italy.
If you sprain your ankle playing tennis for the first time since forever during your vacation, you likely know RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. The same RICE can identify burnout with regret, inefficacy, cynicism and exhaustion.
Over 40 per cent of California lawyers would do something different if they had to do it over again. This constitutes a high level of regret. Lack of actualization can lead to a feeling of inefficacy, and difficult as it may seem, burnout indicates even higher levels of cynicism that what you normally have. Exhaustion likely originated during articling and never dissipated.
A number of firms insist upon employees taking vacation. The firm’s rationale could range from an actual concern for employee health or for the ever-expanding health-benefit costs. If an employee leaves as a result of stress, there comes the extensive cost of locating, rehiring and training new staff. Far better to maintain the mental health of the existing staff.
In addition to vacations, employers should be considering breaks during the work cycle. Standing up and getting that wilted salad to eat in front of the computer does not cut it. An employee requires greater dedicated time to mental breaks along with physical activity on a regular basis.
The same APA study found that staff became far more productive and content with their position when employers cared about employee’s mental health.
How does an employee determine if an employer does not care about employee health and only cares about maximum productivity? Here’s a handy list of things to look out for:
- The organization ignores the healthy basics. Instead of healthy snacks, the vending machines are filled with sugar, salt, surgery salt, solidified fats and over-the-counter stay-awake medications.
- The company suggests there are no limits to productivity. This means a complete ability to work all of the time. This might be illustrated by prints showing eagles soaring through the sky, even though that’s not where the fish are.
- The company implies the need to be constantly on line. Perhaps they hand out those little rechargeable battery packs as bonus gifts so your phone can always be fully charged.
- The company does not mandate any time off. Employee of the month photos show sallowed faces, and instead of listing how many days without injury, employers list the number of days a staff has gone without a vacation.
- The company opposes flexible work arrangements since the attitude appears to that freedom is slavery.
- The top management possess the complete works of Franz Kafka, George Orwell and that dystopian one by William Golding. Other than eagles, the remaining wall prints show faces watching you.
- The company’s self care workshops instead of yoga emphasize speed reading and tips to get by with five hours sleep.
- The company maintains a great benefit plan, but it only covers over the counter products such as Red Bull and Rolaids.
- Your retention bonus golden handcuffs figuratively resemble golden boots encased in cement.
- You look up the LOA policy and it only refers to lots of aggression.
If you have one or more of these items in your workplace, then perhaps consider changing the culture or finding a new one.