Ask Alto: You’re planning a holiday – how to stop feeling guilty, disconnect and ensure that everyone accepts that leave is leave

March 30, 2023 Share this article:

Ask Alto

Whether in the northern or southern hemisphere, a change of seasons often means executives, employees and entrepreneurs alike plan a spring or autumn holiday.

Whether it’s a few days added to the Easter weekend, or some vacation time scheduled to coincide with a school term break, people (and the organisations they work for) need to find ways to deal with the change of routine and personnel. The fact that everyone is reachable all the time via their smartphones and other devices makes this more complicated than it used to be – but also more important than it used to be.

AltoPartners recommends a three-step plan of action.

First, deal with your own issues

Guilt: People who pride themselves on being reliable, and who see themselves as responsible and diligent, might feel that they are letting other people down by being away from their desk. One way to deal with this is to deploy that diligence on your own behalf and plan ahead. Make sure that colleagues or clients are aware of your holiday plans well in advance – that way no one is left in the lurch. Remember though that sending an email probably isn’t enough: not everyone reads all their email all the time. If there’s someone who will be affected by your holiday plans, talk to them directly.

Expectations: Accept that there may be some catching up to do when you get back, and don’t let the fear of falling behind ruin your vacation. Be honest with yourself and others about what they can realistically accomplish while you’re away.

Trust: Other people really can handle things in your absence. If you’re worried about something, communicate your concerns before you leave and offer suggestions for how to handle it. But then, let go of the need to control everything.

Put yourself first: Taking time off work means you are taking care of your mental and physical health. There’s a quote that’s often used in parenting support groups: the emergency procedures on a plane flight instruct you to place the oxygen mask over your own mouth before helping children. For parents, that means taking care of their own needs so as to be the best caregivers they can. In the workplace, it means that rest is essential to give of your best.

Second, do what you need to do at work

Set boundaries: Tell clients and colleagues that you won’t be available during your time off and that you’ll get back to them when you return. If you do decide to keep tabs on things, tell people when you will be checking email, or when you will be available for calls.

Delegate: If you’re in a position of leadership or management, be clear about who you are delegating tasks and responsibilities to before you leave. If you aren’t a manager, make sure to hand over any information about projects that might be needed by your colleagues.

What to do when you are on holiday

Avoid checking work emails or messages (unless you really have to): Checking in “every now and then” can quickly spiral into a habit that takes away from your relaxation time. If you absolutely must check in, limit yourself to a set amount of time each day and stick to it.

Turn off notifications for work-related apps and email on your phone. If you’re worried about missing something important, ask a trusted colleague to contact you in case of an emergency. Do things that help you disconnect: If you aren’t travelling away from home, it takes a conscious effort to use your time well. Reading, walking, spending time with loved ones, working on a hobby: these all can help you to focus on being present in the moment.

Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques such as meditation or deep breathing exercises can help reduce feelings of guilt or anxiety.

What executives can do to make sure that leave is leave, for everyone

In 2021, an AltoPartners article on the right to disconnect noted that some leaders might have an unconscious expectation that employees should be ‘always on’. That article referred to the greying of boundaries that occurred during the shift to work-from-home caused that happened during the Covid-19 pandemic. But that unconscious expectation could extend to a feeling that employees don’t really need holidays. Leaders would be better served by remembering that holidays:

  • Prevent burnout: Employees who feel they can’t disconnect from work are at a higher risk of burnout, which can lead to physical and mental health issues.
  • Increase productivity: When employees feel rested (and that means not being contacted while they are on leave), they are more productive and motivated when they return to work.
  • Boost morale by building trust: Employees who feel that their employers respect their boundaries are more likely to feel valued and appreciated.

A final word

‘The graveyards are full of indispensable people’. The quote is variously attributed to French military leader and statesman Charles de Gaulle or to French journalist and politician Georges Clemenceau. Whoever said it, it deserves a place on your office noticeboard. No one is indispensable, and believing yourself to be so is a recipe for ill health and unhappiness. As De Gaulle of Clemenceau might have said: Bon vacances!