Many of us find holidays more stressful than being at work.
We shouldn’t, but we do. As we sit on our sun loungers, we sweat everything from the small stuff (what will a client think if I don’t answer her emails for a week?) to the big stuff (I think Clive from operations is after my job – will my absence give him the chance to prove himself?).
We do this because we’re human, but it isn’t good for us. A holiday should be time away from the office grind that allows you to unwind. You should come back de-stressed, refreshed and re-invigorated. Ideally, at some point, around day eight, you should have completely forgotten about you job, however briefly. So, how do you learn to stop worrying and love your holidays?
1. Start by reminding yourself that holidays really are necessary, says Arabella Ellis, a director at The Thinking Partnership, a leadership consultancy. “They let your unconscious mind work out problems. They let you decompress and repair and recharge and relax.” People, she explains, need to view them as “important things in their own right,” rather than just not being at work.
2. Don’t feel guilty about being away. Your holiday entitlement is as much part of your package as your salary or your pension. Not taking holiday is exactly like taking a pay cut. Remind yourself too that good employers should want you to take holidays – because you’ll return refreshed and better able to do your job. Remember too that, if you do not take holiday (or do not relax on holiday) you are likely to be less productive and more likely to suffer from stress and burn-out.
3. Prepare by finishing all the work you can and delegating everything else. If you run a team, holidays can be a chance to show that you are a good boss who trusts and empowers their people. Anything you can’t delegate down to your team should be “delegated across” to your peers.
Ellis suggests drawing up a “triage list” of what to do if things go wrong: “If X happens, it can wait until my return, if Y happens then refer it to Sarah…” This, she says, will make you think about what is important: “People should be able to get hold of you if they really need to but make it hard.”
4. Prepare your email. Email is incredibly addictive, but if you’ve checking it every five minutes, mentally, you’re not on holiday. So, clear all your old emails before you go on holiday. Next, set your out of office message. In an ideal world, you would do this with a view to not checking emails at all, just giving the dates you are away and the name of someone who can be contacted if something important comes up. This colleague will also know what constitutes important enough to contact you on holiday, because they will have a copy of the useful triage list you drew up earlier.
5. If you must check emails, says Dr Monica Seeley, founder of the Mesmo Consultancy and an expert on email best practice, be strict. “Look at email once a day, ideally at the end of the day, so you don’t ruin your time with your family or friends.” She suggests leaving the checking period longer as the holiday wears on and you learn to relax, perhaps rewarding yourself for every day you don’t check email.
6. Ensure only important emails come to you. Seeley says that you can do this by setting filters which automatically send unimportant emails such as office round robins and messages you are cc’d in on to folders you have set up. This way, only the emails that matter (for instance, those from your boss or a client you are waiting to hear from) will appear in your inbox.
7. Switch any work-related social media off. In terms of importance, nearly all social media is like the emails you can ignore. Moreover, after a day or two (and usually less) what has happened on social media will have been completely forgotten. Besides, if it really matters, someone will email or call you.
8. Get some perspective. You are not indispensable. While you are away, other people will cover for you, in much the same way as you cover for them. But, this does not mean that Clive from operations will get your job. If he was better than you, he would already have your job. Being in Greece for two weeks is not going to change any of this. If it helps, think of the times you’ve covered for your boss for a fortnight, without taking his job.
9. Think about how you look. Your colleagues don’t expect to hear from you when you’re away. They want to see you, tanned and rested in a fortnight, with an amusing story about losing your wallet on a camel safari. Emailing (or worse, calling) every day to check in makes you look needy and insecure, rather than someone who is confident that they’re doing a good job.
10. It might not be work that’s the problem. If you find being on holiday very stressful, it may be because you have problems elsewhere in your life. So, ask yourself why you’d really rather be at the office. If it’s because you can’t bear the person you’re on holiday with, then you need to make changes in your life, but they don’t have anything to do with email or delegation.
‘How to switch off from work when you go on holiday’, (telegraph.co.uk), July 2015, Rhymer RigbyBack to Blog