Does More Vacation Time = More Productivity at Work?
Népal — Uniterra
Before I came to Nepal, one of the first things I learned was that there was an unusual number of public holidays. I was so excited because that meant I would be able to have the practical experience of the placement, but also the chance to travel Nepal! Then I started thinking, are these holidays one of the reasons that Nepal is still a developing country? I thought to myself that with all the holidays (resulting in companies being closed for a number of days), there is limited productivity. The number of holidays in Nepal is not something that can be easily changed, because many holidays are centered on religion. The holidays here are comparable to Christmas and Easter at home in Canada. The longest religious celebration in Nepal is Dashain (festival to mark the good conquering the bad). Dashain usually takes place in September or October and can last anywhere between 5 days in cities to 15 days in villages [i]. Dashain is then followed by Tihar (festival of lights), which is a three-day public holiday [ii]. These back to back festivals are the main reason why I question if holidays and vacation are good for productivity.
When I started writing this blog I researched if vacation was beneficial for productivity. All the sources I found agree that vacation is one of the best ways to increase efficiency in the workplace [iii]. Vacation time and holidays have been found to improve energy levels, increase creativity, and can boost people’s moods, which all lead to improved productivity – in a western setting [iv]. When I asked a former president of a company in Canada, their answer was both positive and negative. He agreed that it can increase output, but that it can also result in depression among employees when they return and find a pile of work that was not completed in their absence [v]. To gain a better understanding of productivity and vacation time in the context of Nepal, I began to reflect on my own experiences while working here. In my workplace I have noticed that whenever there is a project that needs to be finished before the holidays, the response is always ‘don’t worry about finishing it, it can be completed after the holiday’. This lack of urgency becomes a problem when there is holiday after holiday scheduled.
Is time off the only reason there is less proficiency in the workplace, or is there another possible reason? From stories I’ve heard from other volunteers, it seems like vacation time might not be the only culprit when it comes to lack of productivity. Stories include the friends of coworkers stopping by work and having tea, and coworkers spending time watching videos on their computers or doing other work that is unrelated to their job. The differences between workplaces in Nepal and those in the west (like Canada and the USA) is that here in Nepal, time is fluid and unprioritized (vacations are a good example), and there is a distinct hierarchy that slows down efficiency because people need to wait for the decisions to be made higher up. In contrast, in Canada and the USA, effective use of time is highly prioritized and there are fewer everyday decisions made by the head of the company [vi]. These workplace characteristics create a visible difference in workplace culture and mentality.
The question I was asking myself at the beginning of this blog was if vacation time can increase workplace output. However, from research, asking questions, and listening to stories, I’ve decided that the question is not as simple as previously thought. In my opinion yes, vacation time can increase productivity, yet it is not the only factor limiting efficiency. To address this issue workplace culture must be fully restructured to promote and encourage productivity.
[i] Basnet, P. (2010, August). Understanding Dashain. Retrieved from http://ecs.com.np/features/understanding-dashain
[ii] Jigme, C. (2018, August 21). Tihar Festival, Nepal Festival of Lights, The Second Biggest Festival in Nepal. Retrieved from https://www.tibettravel.org/nepal-festival/tihar-festival.html
[iii] Robinson, J. (2015). Working Smarter. Retrieved from https://www.worktolive.info/blog/the-link-between-vacations-productivity-and-work-life-balance
[iv] Seppälä, E. M., Dr. (2017, August 17). Three Science-Based Reasons Vacations Boost Productivity. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201708/three-science-based-reasons-vacations-boost-productivity
[v] Mohn, T. (2014, March 01). Take A Vacation: It’s Good For Productivity And The Economy, According To A New Study. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyamohn/2014/02/28/take-a-vacation-its-good-for-productivity-and-the-economy-according-to-a-new-study/#271341db5a33
[vi] Khabar, G. (2015, September 11). Working Culture: Nepal & Seattle. Retrieved from https://glocalkhabar.com/featured/working-culture-nepal-seattle/