Professor Egold, why in fact do we need holidays?

"It is a bad sign when people are unable to recharge their batteries even at the weekend. If a person feels constantly tired, is easily irritated and no longer enjoys going to work, they urgently need some time out. This doesn't have to be a three-week beach holiday. Studies show that even short breaks have positive effects. For us to properly unwind and switch off, we need to plan our free time well and consciously enjoy it. Afterwards, employees feel more active and healthy again, and are also more flexible and creative. This is of great interest to companies, as it has been found that rates of absenteeism are particularly low in firms where workers take regular holidays.

Research into rest and relaxation

Professor Egold, why in fact do we need holidays?
Merely looking forward to a holiday triggers feelings of happiness.

The level of psychological strain has increased hugely in the world of work, and people are finding it more and more difficult to properly switch off. This trend is also reflected in psychological research. While more general models of stress and strain tended to be developed until the 1960s, recent theories are much more specific and also include the aspect of rest and relaxation. One example from the field of positive psychology is the DRAMMA model developed in 2013 by Newman, Tay and Diener. It reveals how important periods of leisure are for overall well-being. It is a fact that individuals are subjected to increased requirements as a result of digitisation, and that the borders between work and free time are becoming blurred. People continue to reply to e-mails even at weekends or after work, employees are often reachable around the clock, and many work far more hours than required by law. This results in a permanent state of stress that can no longer be reduced in everyday life. Accordingly, our expectations of our holidays are extremely high – which is not a good prerequisite for recharging our batteries. Especially given that many people feel especially stressed at work just before they go on holiday. Women may be particularly affected: because of the stereotypical expectations of their role, they are often the ones who organise the holiday – arranging everything from care of the family’s pets to the watering of plants. And this often comes on top of the multiple burdens they already face.

Creating freedom and ensuring variety

If we are to really rest and recover on holiday, two aspects are particularly important: we need to prepare the holiday properly, and we must look forward to it. From a psychological viewpoint, feelings of happiness are not triggered by the fulfilment of an expectation, but by the expectation itself. It is a question of anticipation: when I imagine myself reading on the beach for an hour in the sun, I am assuming that this will very likely come to pass. In turn, this optimistic expectation increases the likelihood of this scenario actually materialising. We should work out what it is we particularly yearn for on holiday, and think about how to make it happen. Of course, it is important not to have unrealistic notions – like looking forward to romantic sunsets if we are going to be travelling with small children. This can make the disappointment even greater. It is also not always the case that both partners will want the same thing. While one is looking forward to exploring the local area by bike, the other may prefer to lie on the beach. This is also part of planning a holiday properly: discussing what is important for each person and trying to find possible compromise solutions before the situation escalates during the holiday itself.

Don't plan to do too much on holiday

For many people, these few weeks a year are the only period when they are finally free to decide what to do with their time. It is important to preserve this freedom and not pack too many activities into the holiday. The real luxury is being able to consciously indulge in things for which there is normally no time – like playing with the kids, doing a tour of the island by bike, reading, or simply doing nothing at all. Though research does show that variety is desirable. Overcoming small challenges on holiday builds cognitive resources that may prove useful when facing stressful or difficult situations later on. Such challenges do not have to involve physical activities. Adding the occasional excursion to a beach holiday or including a walk through a park or natural environment in a city break – even briefly interrupting or changing the day's itinerary can have a very beneficial impact.

Short-lived feelings of relaxation

However wonderful the holiday may be, it will come to an end all too soon – and its beneficial effect will evaporate relatively quickly. Positive effects such as satisfaction or improved productivity and efficiency can only be detected for up to four weeks afterwards – no matter how long the holiday lasted. That is why we repeatedly need short breaks, ideally distributed regularly throughout the year."

Professor Nikolai Egold

Professor Egold, why in fact do we need holidays?
Going with the flow on holiday and listening to what the family wants: Nikolai Egold believes that is always a good formula.

A psychology graduate, Nikolai Egold is a professor of applied social and occupational psychology, as well as dean of studies at the Psychology School of the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Frankfurt. After studying psychology at Goethe University Frankfurt and Philipps-Universität Marburg, he wrote a doctoral thesis on "Customer orientation and customer satisfaction – correlations in organisational and personnel-related customer orientation". In his research he focuses on identity and commitment, gender-specific stereotypes, sexism and work-related attitudes and effects. (only in German)