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How should you spend your holiday break?


Laura M. Giurge and Vanessa Bohns of the Harvard Business Review discuss the benefits of making some plans for our upcoming holidays. The key is being intentional.


Burnout is real. It is on the rise and not surprisingly after an almost two-year-long pandemic. The general advice is to take some timeout for some ‘’R&R’ but studies show this may not be best. How do we best take breaks ensuring we return to work refreshed and revitalised? Set goals & plan.


It is called proactive recovery. It involves planning your time off doing things that will make you feel accomplished. Some examples of this could involve spending time with family, having coffee with a friend, or reading your favourite book. Even tackling something like the drawer that has everything but the kitchen sink can help you feel rested! This form of proactive recovery is found to have a better effect on people than passive forms of recovery, e.g., lying on the couch.


Last December in 2020, HBR asked a group of employees if they had any goals for the upcoming winter break and asked them to identify how happy they were.

They found that employees who set goals for their holidays indicated being 8% happier than those who didn’t. This difference in happiness emerged regardless of gender, age, employment, income, marital status, frequency of working from home, or the number of dependents.


They also wanted to understand whether proactive recovery is associated with how many days of holidays people planned to take off from work and how they planned to spend their time. On average, people who had holiday goals planned to take 1.2 more days off from work than those who did not set goals for their holidays. This is important as many forfeit their holiday days and miss out on their benefits. During this year with restrictions and lockdowns, many people found it hard to take breaks as many identify a holiday or break with hopping on the plane.

Employees who had holiday goals further anticipated allocating 24% less time to passive leisure activities such as watching TV, napping, or doing nothing, and 28% more time to socialising with their friends and family.

This may be difficult due to current government restrictions but even a walk outside can suffice and benefit all involved. These differences in how we plan to spend our time off matter for our well-being. HBR found that planning to spend more time with loved ones was associated with greater happiness. This is in line with one of the most consistent findings in time-use and well-being research on the unique benefits of social connection.


Spending time doing hobbies during your holiday break can assist with feeling refreshed on return.

Proactive recovery can also benefit the organisation. HBR found that employees who set goals for their upcoming holiday indicated being 5% more satisfied with their job than those who did not.

Like holidays, people who have goals for their weekends are also more likely to spend their weekends pursuing social activities and less likely to spend their weekends resting or doing nothing. And spending one’s weekend engaging in social activities may in turn lead to greater happiness. But the main thing to consider when being proactive is to ensure you are flexible. If you are rigid in your planning, taking a leisurely stroll may feel like a chore! Research by Gabriela Tonietto and Selin Malkoc found that when people scheduled leisure activities loosely, they were still able to maintain the enjoyment of leisure time.

HBR believe the main reason setting goals during your break is because it makes the time spent away from work more intentional.


With the challenges of an ongoing pandemic and unforeseen economic consequences, many people might question whether they should make any plans over the holidays.

As this year draws to a close and plans are ever-evolving, research suggests that setting goals can help us feel rejuvenated and ensures we get the most out of our time during our holidays.

Read more here.

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