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Research shows that people need a really good disconnected vacation in order to rejuvenate and revitalize.

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Working excessive hours before and after vacation is hardly a recipe for relaxation, but it's a trap that almost three-quarters of working Canadians fell into in 2017, according to a new survey by ADP Canada.

ADP calls it the "time-off tax," with 71 per cent of employees reporting that, in order to get away for a week, it typically cost an average of 11.4 extra hours as they strove to stay ahead beforehand or catch up on work after the break.

The ADP survey of 1,000 Canadians also found that just one-third had taken or booked all of their allotted vacation by early December, 2017. The rest left time on the table. "It can be exhausting to prepare for a vacation, both personally and professionally," said David Heather, vice-president of human resources at ADP Canada. "That [11.4 extra hours] is a big number, especially … when viewed from the lens that the average working week for Canadians is about 35 to 40 hours," he said in an interview.

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One positive development is that Canadians worked fewer extra hours before and after vacation in 2017 than they did in 2016. While the survey did not uncover reasons, Mr. Heather said there is greater awareness among employees and employers about the importance of "wellness in the work environment." Employers have an obligation to ensure employees are able to use vacation time to unwind and recharge, but the holiday effect won't last long if employees return to a backlog of work, he said, adding that he has noticed an emerging trend toward more flexible vacation policies.

Nora Spinks, chief executive officer of the Vanier Institute of the Family, agreed that "the attention lately on mental health and mental health in the workplace is changing the conversation around the boardroom and in HR departments and on the front lines."

"People are using language such as 'for my mental health, for my wellness, I need a vacation.' It's a new way of looking at time and energy and resource management," Ms. Spinks said in an interview.

"Ideally, it's about understanding what people need and creating conditions in the workplace that enable them do their own personal best work on an everyday basis as opposed to pushing people to do more hours," added Toronto-based employee-health consultant Keri Alletson.

"In the Vanier Institute's first planning meeting of 2018, the discussion was not just about what work should be done and the resources needed to support that work," Ms. Spinks said. It was also about "who is going to be off when … and what kind of resources and support are people going to need in order to stay healthy, well and be able to take their vacations?"

At her organization, when one person is off, another will cover. The vacationer's incoming e-mails are screened and sorted so the work doesn't pile up. "All the information requiring action goes into one file, what's already been taken care of by someone else goes into a different file, so by the time you get back from vacation, there may be three or four things you have to take care of, but that's all," Ms. Spinks said.

However, not all workplaces are as collaborative and it does not always seem feasible to hand off work. "At some points of my career, I've been known to put in nearly an extra week's worth of work before a week of vacation, working until midnights to have everything preorganized and ready for my absence," Ms. Alletson said, although she does not recommend it.

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"In times of accelerated change and economic uncertainty, people try to make themselves indispensable by taking on too many projects and commitments. … We're overscheduled and we tend to put ourselves at the bottom of our own to-do lists," she said.

Ms. Spinks said few organizations allow employees to carry over unused vacation time to the following year, so if they don't use it, they lose it. It's also common for many Canadians to reserve one week of the average three-week annual vacation entitlement to cover family emergencies, "which is never what vacation was intended to be," Ms. Spinks said.

"What the research shows is that people need a really good disconnected break in order to rejuvenate and revitalize – and most people aren't getting that, if they get it at all."

At ADP, Mr. Heather said he tries to lead by example by taking vacations and trusting his team to manage in his absence.

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