For many employees, vacation is not so much rest as additional stress
For millions of people, vacation is a real trap. It is needed to relax, recover and forget about the problems at work. But before we go away, we overload ourselves with extra work, and when we come back, we try to catch up. Therefore, the findings of Dutch researchers that returning from vacation, people do not feel happier than those who stayed in the office can hardly be called surprising.
The problem is especially acute in the U.S., because corporate culture often forces employees not to take a vacation at all: more than half (52%) of Americans do not take at least part of the allotted days. The main reason is the stress people feel before and after vacation. In surveys, 40% of men and 46% of women said the mere thought of the mountains of work that would await them upon their return was enough for them to give up unspent days.
Another study found that time off is a source of anxiety, even though paid time off is a well-deserved reward. “I’ve worked at least 24 extra hours in the last two weeks,” admitted one respondent who was going on vacation. Another study participant, who had just returned, had a similar concern: “I was very worried about having a lot of catching up to do.”
In teaching meditation to the business world, I hear similar complaints. People come to me when they are extremely stressed, especially before and after a vacation. Over time, while counseling clients and strategizing for myself, I’ve come up with tactics to minimize stress and increase productivity.
Prepare for a relaxed return before you leave
Learn to relax. You don’t have to put it off until vacation – start dealing with stress now. I suggest meditating for a few minutes every day. As the vacation approaches, think about what it will be like. If you don’t have time to do a full meditation, at least sit with your back straight, breathing deep and imagining what good feelings you’ll experience on vacation (like peace and quiet). These simple techniques will help you to quiet your mind at any time, to concentrate and remain calm on the next steps of the path I am proposing.
Set your priorities. A few weeks before your vacation, make a list of things you need to do before you leave. Show it to your supervisor, get his opinion and agree all items with him. Refer to this list when planning your daily work. When new tasks arise, distract yourself only with essential ones, and otherwise stick to the plan. If you don’t, work, and with it stress, will accumulate.
Don’t wait until a week before your vacation. If you’re going away for a week, start preparing at least two weeks in advance. If you’re going for two weeks, get ready a month in advance.
Give everyone a heads up. Make sure your boss, co-workers and clients know which days you’ll be gone. Let everyone know that it won’t be possible to contact you while you’re on vacation. People will understand that they need to address important issues with you ahead of time. As a reminder, you can add vacation dates to the signature of emails.
Some people worry: What will people think if I’m not in touch? But I keep finding that it only strengthens relationships. If a person gives to vacation as much as they give to work, that’s impressive.
Figure out who to turn things over to. There will probably be people in the company who can help with things that came up while you were gone, or at least let clients know that you’ll get things done when you return. Break down your work and consider which of your colleagues can handle it. Ask these people to fill in for you while you’re away and offer to return the favor. Once you’ve agreed on everything, send them letters thanking them and giving them the information they need. Let your supervisor know who will be responsible for what while you are away.
This may seem like overkill. But, knowing that everything is under control in the office will make you less anxious. And since colleagues will take responsibility for the cases entrusted to them, there will be less work waiting for you after your vacation.
Get your workplace in order. This may sound strange. Why add extra tasks to your pre-holiday list? The reason is simple: clutter increases stress levels. A tidy workplace will make coming back more enjoyable.
Set up an automatic response to emails. Think of your text so that you have less work to do when you return. For example, you can write that you won’t respond to emails you receive while on vacation and ask clients and colleagues to duplicate messages, if they’re still relevant, when you return. If possible, indicate in your automated reply that you will be there on Tuesday or Wednesday, even if you actually return on Monday. Don’t schedule appointments on the first day after vacation to avoid being overwhelmed.
While on vacation
In the above-mentioned study, scientists identified a group of people who feel better after a vacation: these are those who were able to properly relax. Vacations are a chance to recuperate. Take full advantage of it.
Set a goal. Many people in the workplace are used to being goal oriented. Try to apply this skill during the vacation. Aim, for example, to feel joy, calm, energized.
Really disconnect. Leave work and thoughts about it at the office, and your mind and body are much more likely to get a well-deserved rest. And by limiting your access to gadgets, you’ll definitely enjoy your vacation. How many times have you picked up your phone or laptop to “just check in” and unnoticeably dropped out of your life for an hour or more?
Engage your senses. Take walks in nature. Pay attention to the sounds. Breathe in the fresh air. Swim in a lake. Go for spa treatments. My clients who give rest to their senses are completely relaxed by the end of their vacation.
I know this is all easier said than done. So I recommend planning some of these activities ahead of time and devoting at least some time to yourself.
After the vacation
If you’ve prepared well for your vacation and rested properly, you’re already most of the way to an easy return. But even if the preparations have failed and the trip itself has turned into chaos with delayed flights, crying kids and late train arrivals, there’s still a way to make sure your return doesn’t drive you crazy.
Make a plan. You don’t have to jump into work at the first minute, clean up the mess and try to redo everything immediately. Spend half an hour making a list of the most important tasks. Do it before you check your email: spending a couple of days or weeks away from the office may make you think outside the box. If you take your time to think things through and develop a plan of action, you can greatly improve your productivity and reduce your stress levels.
Re-prioritize. It may not be the tasks you thought were most important before you went on vacation that are most important now. On the first day, contact key company employees and discuss what you missed and what urgently needs your attention. Thank everyone who helped you and ask if they need anything from you. If you think you need to read the emails that were sent to you while you were on vacation, go through your mailbox and select the most important ones first, such as those from an executive or a major client. Search your inbox for emails that contain the typical words for newsletters (say, “unsubscribe”), and mark them as read or delete them.
Listen to yourself. As you get involved, ask yourself if you’re following the goal you set for your vacation – to feel joy, to feel calm, to feel energized. From time to time, recall the best moments of the trip – let them guide you toward that goal. This will help you spot the first signs of stress and confront it. That way you’ll remind yourself that you’ve gone through a reset and are ready to go.
And, of course, meditate. Just a few minutes will do you a lot of good, including boosting your creativity and even changing the way your brain works.
You’re entitled to a good night’s rest. You deserve it. You don’t have to stress about it. By following the suggested plan, you can fully enjoy your rest and relax.