Happy holidays!

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Happy holidays!
by Jessica de Bloom

The end of the year is approaching and most of us are eager to start the Christmas holiday in order to recover from busy working weeks. Deadlines at work, Christmas shopping and numerous “pikkujoulut” may leave one desperate for some rest and relaxation. We may want to believe that Christmas holidays do wonders, making us return to work with new energy and inspiration. But is this thought actually grounded in scientific evidence? Or can we compare the idea to children’s belief in Santa Claus?

According to research, there are two mechanism that explain why vacations can positively affect people’s well-being and health: an active and a passive mechanism (Geurts & Sonnentag, 2006; De Bloom, 2012). According to the effort-recovery model (Meijman & Mulder, 1998) and the allostatic load theory (McEwen, 1998), a vacation from work reflects a direct release from daily exposure to job demands.

Removal of the demands previously put on an individual’s psychobiological systems is a necessary prerequisite for recovery to occur (Sonnentag, 2001). In other words, a holiday is salutary, because we do not have to work or experience common stressors at work, such as high work load, time pressure or minor conflicts of interests with colleagues, clients or supervisors.

But holidays do much more than removing strain. According to the conservation of resources theory (Hobfoll & Shirom, 2001), self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) and broaden- and -build theory (Fredrickson, 2001), humans are ‘masters of their own fate’ who can actively and freely pursue their own interests and intentionally strive for desirable outcomes. Vacations provide working people with an opportunity to build and maintain social relationships, and engage in pleasant activities of their own choice.

So much about theory. How about practice?

In general, empirical research has shown that vacations positively affect employee health and well-being (De Bloom, 2009). For instance, diverse studies following employees before, during and after different types of vacations demonstrated that levels of self-reported happiness, life satisfaction, health, mood and energy improve during holidays. At the same time, levels of tension, fatigue and stress hormone secretion decrease (e.g., Chen & Petrick, 2013; Etzion, 2003; Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006; Gretz & Stick, 1993; Toda et al., 2004).

In addition, couples report higher quality conversations with each other and families feel that their communication and family cohesion improves (Durko & Petrick, 2015; Lehto, Lin, Chen & Choi, 2012). However, these effects are generally short-lived and often fade out within the first week after returning to work (De Bloom et al., 2009).

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Given what we have said above, some people may wonder whether it makes sense to take vacations if the effects disappear so rapidly. Should we stop sleeping, because we will get tired again? Should we stop eating, because we get hungry again? You get the point.

There is, however, scientific evidence that not taking regular vacations is harmful to your health. For instance, two epidemiological studies following healthy people for several years found that not taking vacations for a prolonged period of time is associated with an enhanced risk to suffer from cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks and even die prematurely (Eaker, Pinsky & Castelli, 1992; Gump & Matthews, 2000).

In addition, studies have shown that recovered workers are more eager to engage in organizational citizenship behavior (i.e., behaviors that benefit an organization such as helping co-workers or volunteering for additional tasks; e.g., Binnewies, Sonnentag & Mojza, 2009). Furthermore, an experimental study using an idea generation task before and after a vacation period suggests that vacations increase cognitive flexibility (De Bloom et al., 2014). Consequently, employees who return to work after a vacation are more likely to consider different aspects of a problem and avoid relying on conventional ideas and routine solutions.

With this in mind, enjoy your Christmas holiday, good company and delicious food! Speaking about food and holidays: it is normal to return to work after the holiday with a few pounds extra on your hips (Roberts & Mayer, 2000).

I’m looking forward to seeing you after the holidays relaxed, with new, creative ideas in mind.

Merry Christmas and a “guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr” (which literally translates into: a good glide into the next year) as we say in German!

Migrant Crisis & Germany

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Reflections on German Nationalism and the ‘Migrant Crisis’ in Europe
Text by Robert Imre, Photos by Heikki A. Kovalainen

Editor’s Note: In the article, Robert Imre, Senior Researcher at IASR, takes up the case of Germany with regard to the potential avenues of multiculturalism. A brief discussion is offered as to how Germany distinguishes itself from other European nation states in its response to the global “Migrant crisis.” A further question is raised as to whether Germany’s incipient success with multiculturalism may be seen to share parallels with the liberal-pluralist migrant societies of Australia and Canada.

One of the most interesting aspects of the recent European summer has been that so many migrants and asylum seekers have publicly stated that Germany is their country of destination.

Creating a pathology of migration has made it quite easy for government officials all over the continent to revert to paranoias of the ‘other’, rebuild borders long-forgotten, and ignore real and more serious policy problems. In the midst of all this stands Angela Merkel, a serious political persona opposed to the populists, and making concerted attempts to convince those around her to take in comparatively large numbers of migrants.

There are a number of related problems political, social and economic here, and I can only deal with a very small aspect of this, and one of the things I find most interesting is the changing nature of Germany.

For example, as in successful multicultural countries such as Australia and Canada, it is rare to find ‘ghettoes’ in Germany. Certainly there are areas that appear more affluent, and those areas where co-ethnics have grouped together, but there is nothing like the collapse of living standards we see in certain places in Belgium and France. Even Sweden – the only European country with an official multicultural policy – has areas that are approaching the infamous banlieues of Paris. This is quite rare in Germany and in many of the cities and suburban areas there is much more mixing of peoples going on.

Is Germany, then, a ‘proper’ multicultural nation like Australia and Canada? Our experience in multicultural nations tells us that social mobility is the key to breaking down barriers among pre-determined ethnic and religious groups. Once the social mobility is achieved, the dynamics of the society become quite different. And this is precisely where Germany might well be moving away from other European countries.

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There is of course still the question of the German far-right. A key point to remember about Germany is that conservative parties have been very careful to dissociate themselves from far-right nationalists. This is unlike what has happened in a variety of countries such as France, UK, Hungary, and even Australia. In those countries, among others, far-right nationalists have been able to influence conservative politicians and even policy-makers, to shift political agendas into this right-wing territory. This is not happening in Germany and the far-right remains isolated and very small.

Recent events might even point to the dynamic that many such social movements have experienced: the violent dying stages of a single-issue protest group. In almost every case, their rallies are ridiculed and outnumbered, and with almost no connection to any electoral success, they will not be anywhere near political decision-making processes.

Thriving multicultural nations with official multicultural policies such as Australia and Canada are always able to deal with the fact that wealthy countries will have birthrates below replacement level coupled with the need to increase tax revenues. This is achieved, in part, by having a regular migration intake that has immediate permanent residency, and very short timeframes for citizenship applications. A number of small cities throughout Germany have mayors who have claimed outright that they wish to have more people join their cities and are happy to have migrants from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, Germany already has people from these parts of the world living there, and depopulated German cities are set up with available housing and infrastructure – they need workers and taxpayers, families and individuals, to move in and work, pay taxes, and get on with their lives.

This is the same problem throughout Europe and migration would be a solution, both long-term and short-term, as evidenced by the migrant societies of Australia and Canada. A vast majority of German denizens seem to agree with this and can see the sense in the progressive move of finally shedding the 19th Century view of a mono-lingual, mono-cultural, mono-ethnic, nation-state, that so many European political leaders are trying to force their polities back in to.

So is ‘German nationalism’ starting to look like the liberal pluralism of Australia and Canada? Are we seeing a Germany that will leave the rest of Europe behind, shedding the repressive cloak of ethno-nationalism for the progressive liberal-pluralism of other successful migrant societies? Perhaps this current ‘crisis’ of migration will be the test for the ‘German’ population and policy-makers and political leaders of the German state.