Should you work (even just a little bit) on holiday to avoid stress?

Should you work (even just a little bit) on holiday to avoid stress?

Published on 26th November, 2021 at 02:49 pm

Just when you think you can finally relax, that little red notification pops up… But does checking in on work during your holiday increase or decrease your stress levels?

How to know which option is right for you?

There’s a gentle breeze in the air, just enough to waft over the smell of the ocean. There’s sand between your toes, sunscreen on your shoulders… and a laptop in your lap. What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, if you’re one of the growing number of people who believe checking in on work while on holiday is the best way to avoid stress and anxiety. But for others, the thought of refreshing their inbox while sunning their legs is the cause of anxiety. It’s called “leave” for a reason, right?

Getting the work-life balance on point is trickier than ever before, with WFH, intermittent lockdowns and instability all contributing to a fragile sense of self and safety. With no more hours-long commutes in traffic, the time we spent in front of our computers have only increased – but we are not increasing our time off in the same way, feeling pressure to perform and to always be available.

Here are some tips for maximising your productivity while working from home.

If you work more than 24 hours per month for your employer, you are entitled to annual leave, which, in South Africa, according to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, is 15 workdays annually (which you can take as 21 days consecutively). The Act is very clear on protecting employees’ leave days, stating that employers may not implement a “use it or lose it” policy. This means you really should have no reason to feel guilty or under pressure when taking leave – but in a high-stress environment, this is easier said than done. And when you start to factor in the rising toll of burnout on workers everywhere, maybe pulling up that spreadsheet on the beach is a way to help balance the candle burning at both ends.

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“The decision to work on holiday is very dependent on the individual, their capacity and their state of mind and stress levels, rather than burnout,” says career transition coach Elise McCabe. “An important question would be, are you working because you want to or because you have to? Don’t forget the reason you have taken leave, as working all the time could defeat the purpose of your holiday all together. If you are going to work, set limits.”

Are you looking at changing jobs? Find out why it’s important not to touch your pension fund in the process, here.

In July 2020, Harvard Business Review published research supporting the view that working while on holiday is a terrible idea. The research revealed that “spending weekends or holidays working undermines one of the most important factors that determines whether people persist in their work: intrinsic motivation.” When you work during what is ostensibly your off time, it creates conflict in your mind between your personal and professional goals, or, between your expectations (a nice holiday) and your reality (reading work emails). This just leads to you enjoying both the holiday and the work even less. If you simply can’t help yourself, set strict boundaries for work time – say, replying to emails for one hour every morning – and then stop feeling guilty and hit the surf.

Are you burnt out at work?

Burnout refers to job-related stress that leaves you feeling increasingly physically and emotionally tired, unmotivated, disillusioned, and cynical or critical. It has been officially recognised by the World Health Organisation as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. “Going on holiday is not going to cure burnout,” says McCabe. That’s because there is a difference between simply being tired and having burnout. “Burnout can result from various factors, such as an unmanageable workload, lack of support, an inflexible schedule, lack of expectations and role clarity, unrealistic deadlines and micromanagement,” McCabe continues. The problem is not with you – it’s with your job and working during your holiday won’t fix it.

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You could have burnout if you consistently:

  • Struggle to muster up the motivation to go to work
  • Find it hard to concentrate
  • Easily get irritated or impatient with co-workers
  • Get no satisfaction from your job

You could be especially at risk if you:

  • Work long hours
  • Have a heavy workload
  • Feel you lack control at work, whether over your workload, schedule or resources
  • Lack resources to do your job
  • Have dysfunctional work relationships, like working with a bully or a micromanager

How to tackle burnout:

  • Evaluate and prioritise your to-do list, and delegate, postpone or cancel anything you don’t absolutely have to do yourself right now.
  • Talk to someone you trust so you feel more supported and less alone.
  • Look at your options: maybe it’s time to find a new job or even a counselor who can support you emotionally. You always have choices, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
  • Set limits – and stick to them. Before you agree to anything, ask yourself if you have the time and energy to commit, and don’t feel bad to say no.
  • Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to be perfect. It’s OK to need a break.
  • Take charge of your health by getting enough sleep, eating healthier meals and going for a daily walk.
  • Remember what you used to enjoy, whether that’s reading a book or baking a cake, and make more time for it.

Stressed out and juggling multiple tasks? That’s a problem your free Personal Assistant benefit can solve easily, straight from your Sanlam Reality App

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