Why you shouldn’t get wound up about work on your holidays

We usually holiday to get away from work – but too many of us take it with us


Do you wake up in a cold sweat the night before going back to work after a holiday, wishing you hadn’t gone away at all? According to the experts, you don’t have to.

While some stress might be unavoidable, taking a relaxing break from work and going back to the office refreshed is possible if you plan in advance and manage everyone’s expectations.

April Fools?

When his flight touched down in Kuala Lumpur and he checked his email, he feared he would have to turn around and go back to Cork. The two personal trainers scheduled to cover him while he was gone were both too sick to work. He thought of all the clients scheduled to come in for training sessions over the next two weeks.

“I thought it was an April Fools joke at first,” he says.

When he realised it wasn’t, Ó Cairealláin called his virtual assistant, Miss Moneypenny. The Limerick-based company’s virtual assistants help entrepreneurs with administrative tasks so they can focus on their business.

Rani Dabrai, founder of Miss Moneypenny, got his call from the airport.

“I told him to go off on his trip and we’d take care of everything. We rearranged appointments and contacted clients. We managed to reschedule clients for when the trainers were back in the office,” she says.

“When he got back from holidays, we had secured him new business – new consultations and clients. His business had grown in the period he’d been gone.”

Miss Moneypenny

While the company didn’t go for it, Dabrai did.

“Virtual working is a massive industry, and it’s growing. An SME owner can come to us, delegate tasks and we train three people for every single client account we have. So if anyone is out sick or on holidays, things keep running smoothly. We spend a lot of time learning about the business,” she says.

“I think people who work for themselves need holidays more than people in full- time nine-to-five employment because they’re constantly switched on. Holidays are a good way to avoid burnout. Beforehand, it’s important to put processes in place, train and empower your staff and manage expectations.”

She advises clients to tell people well in advance that they are going to be away.

“Don’t apologise for it. Everyone needs a break. Tell them, ‘I’m going on holidays and don’t expect to hear from me until I return.’ Give them an idea of whom to contact when you’re gone.”

She says that when an entrepreneur’s clients and co-workers have clear expectations, it gives everyone peace of mind.

When Dabrai goes away, her employees know they can interrupt her for three specific reasons: a complicated new sale, a serious emergency or a client problem that requires a judgment call they are not prepared to make. She says any business owner can put similar processes in place.

Her employees also clear her inbox before she gets back to the office, putting things requiring her attention in a separate folder. Email management is one of the services Miss Moneypenny virtual assistants provide.

Something else she advises is using an email “out of office” message. One of her clients created a separate email account that is the only one he checks on holidays, and that address starts with “interrupting myvacation@”.

“No one’s going to send an email to that address unless it’s a real emergency,” she adds. “The fear of something is worse than the thing itself. That Sunday night feeling of dread about going back to the office is a horrible way to end your holiday, but it’s very easy to manage it beforehand.”

Rethink stress

“People are addicted to devices. It’s kind of like a balm. It’s soothing. To let go of that is almost like going around naked for some people. There’s a vulnerability to it,” he says.

“Leave those things at home. There might be a huge amount of resistance to that in the first couple of days, but it gets easier.”

If it’s impossible to completely unplug, McCabe says at least set clear ground rules. Switch on your device only once a day for a specific amount of time, like 15 minutes. Then, only deal with specific emails or other things that are essential and can’t wait until you get back.

“Do what you can in that time. It’s not about getting everything done,” he says, adding that it’s important tot give yourself a brief time window. Otherwise, Parkinson’s law – “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” – will take over.

For returning-to-work stress, McCabe advises his clients to do anything that helps them calm down and “get out of their heads a bit”.

“Distract yourself and focus on something more productive and relaxing. Choose to enjoy the moment. Go for a walk, go see a movie, meet friends, have a glass of wine or read a good book. They are distractions but they can help a person relax.

“Another approach is to write down on paper what you’re thinking and then really look at it honestly and see ‘where is the truth in this, how do I know this is true?’, rather than having fear-based feelings.”

Giving your holiday a buffer day, both before and after, can also make things less painful.

“It’s always good to have decompression time. That little gap before and after, certainly after, to readjust a bit. Take a day or two after you get back. It’s like deciding to put off your honeymoon after you get married. It’s a very bad idea.

“You have a great weekend of partying at the wedding and then you’re home wondering where everyone’s gone. The high is gone so fast it’s quite a shock to the system. A honeymoon serves to bring people back to reality in a gentle way.”

If you take a day or two to come back down to earth after a holiday, you will return to work more grounded, McCabe says.

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