leisure sickness

“Leisure Sickness” phenomenon: leisure-time habits impact susceptibility

An IUBH research team investigated which factors favour leisure sickness and who is particularly susceptible.


Sunny beaches, snow-capped mountains or simply balconies – we want holidays and free time to be restful and relaxing. For many Germans, however, the exact opposite is true. If stress levels drop, they feel unwell – the nose runs, the head pounds the stomach twists and turns.  Psychologists call the phenomenon of getting sick on holiday and weekends leisure sickness. According to the preceding study from 2017, 22 percent of all Germans are affected. In collaboration with the University of Health Sciences, Medical Informatics and Technology (UMIT), IUBH University of Applied Sciences researched potential factors that favour the illness.

Five ways we spend our free time

The study focused on the question: What is the impact of how people use their free time? The research team initially identified five different types of leisure time use:

  • Work related free time: This has a strong connection to work and means, for example, being constantly reachable or needing to take care of tasks outside working hours. This includes meeting privately with colleagues and business partners.
  • Regeneration and further education: This includes a period of rest after work fatigue as well as voluntary further education. It also has a strong connection to work.
  • Obligations and social life: There is no connection to work here, but it has to be done. This refers to unavoidable tasks such as housework or shopping, and self-chosen responsibilities such as raising children or voluntary work commitments.
  • Contrast to work: These activities form a conscious opposite to work. One deliberately creates a balance, for example through sports or artistic hobbies, or spending time in nature.
  • Free free time: This is really “free” free time, when you can do what you feel like doing.

In relationship to leisure sickness: work-life balance is evidently an important factor

Apparently, Germans pursue all five types of free time, but there is a big difference in the weighting of each type of leisure time. Based on this, there are five typical groups, or clusters, whose level of risk for suffering leisure sickness varies:

  • The work horse: This group lives for work and has the highest proportion of “work related free time” and “regeneration and further education”. Interest in non-job related activities is usually low due to extreme exhaustion. This group is also at the forefront in “obligations and social life”, especially unavoidable obligations. In contrast, sports and social contacts hardly play a role and “contrast to work” free time is the lowest in this group. The people are primarily in a higher age range, 45 years and up, and not in leadership positions.
    Leisure sickness susceptibility: high
  • The inactive: This group is relatively far ahead in the “free free time” category, and has the lowest proportions of “work related free time” and “regeneration and further education”. They have the most energy for leisure and recreational activities, but tend to have limited structure and commitments in shaping their free time activities.
    Leisure sickness susceptibility: high
  • The loners: This group takes the lead in “free free time” and is in the middle for “work related free time” and “regeneration and further education”. Work does not play a big role in free time, and this also applies to doing sports with other people and social contacts. A number of people in this group are between 25 and 34 years old, slightly more are female and often work full time without leadership positions.
    Leisure sickness susceptibility: average
  • The balanced: This group has less “work related free time” is less exhausted from work and therefore has more interest in activities and ventures. Nevertheless, obligations take up a lot of space. The result is less “free free time”, but more “contrast to work”. Manner 45 years and over and people in leadership positions are more strongly represented.
    Leisure sickness susceptibility: low
  • The scheduled: This group also has a lot of “work related free time”, but is less exhausted from work and therefore has more interest in activities and ventures. Obligations are in the middle. Free time with others is also important to this group as is “contrast to work”. In contract, the proportion of “free free time” is the lowest. More women are represented in this cluster.
    Leisure sickness susceptibility: low


Conclusion: “free” and “work related” free time tends to be counterproductive

According to research results, “the scheduled” and “the balanced” are the least affected by leisure sickness, “the loner” moderately affected and “the workhorse” and “inactive” the most affected. “There is a verifiable relationship between leisure time behaviour and the occurrence of leisure sickness”, summarised Claudia Möller, Professor of Tourism Management at IUBH. “Our hypothesis that a lot of “free free time” protects again leisure sickness was not confirmed. It actually seems that too few social contacts and obligations – in other words less structure and commitments in free time activities – contribute more to the occurrence of the phenomenon.” An important aspect is also “contrast to work”. The group most affected by leisure sickness have less “contrast to work”, the group least affected strike a stronger counter balance to work.


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