Despite my love for travel, I absolutely hate packing. Every time I go away, I write a packing list: suntan lotion, beach gear, passport... And preparations for my upcoming vacation will be no different. Except, this summer, I won't have to remember my passport.
With COVID-19 preventing overseas travel for many for the second consecutive year, those of us with a travel bug have had to be more creative with the way that we spend our vacation time. For me, this means taking a road trip with my girlfriends along the coast of England to the beautiful county of Devon.
I'm excited. Not only because I get to explore somewhere new and spend quality time with my friends, but because this trip will be the first time in what feels like forever that I will be leaving my makeshift home office and fully switching off from work.
It's been a challenging 18 months for all of us. "Pandemic brain" and "burnout" have become buzzwords that pop up in most conversations – and with good reason.
According to a LinkedIn poll that we published earlier this year, 68 percent of people said they'd been working longer hours while working from home during the pandemic. At the same time, the amount of annual leave being taken has reduced. Another poll revealed that a third (32 percent) of people had taken some time off last year to relax. And, worryingly, 20 percent of people responded, "What does relax mean?"
To try to combat widespread burnout in their organizations, companies such a LinkedIn, Mozilla and Bumble have given their employees "global days off."
In June, the dating app Bumble gave its 700 staff a paid, fully off-line one-week vacation, with only a skeleton staff used to keep the company buzzing along. This was to ensure that employees were able to take time off without the fear of missing something important or having an unmanageable number of emails to return to.
And yet, something doesn't sit quite right with me about being told to take a week off.
However, as we wait for normal service to resume, many of us have questioned whether it's worth wasting annual leave days with no prospect of being able to go anywhere – opting instead to continue working until we can travel. For me, two weeks off in my living room-cum-office wasn't exactly appealing!
Another colleague of mine, Marketing Manager Claire, had her flights to Greece cancelled due to the pandemic. She was tempted to reduce her two-week holiday to one, but decided to "... still have two full weeks off work, to switch off and recharge."
Mind Tools' Community Manager Yolandé has worked remotely for some time, and still finds it tricky to properly switch off when taking annual leave. As she explains, "I started working online many years ago. The first time I disconnected from work for longer than three days was seven years in – and it was only because it was my honeymoon.
"However, the organization didn't expect me to be online all the time. I simply felt too guilty not to work if I had access to the internet. It felt "wrong" to stay off-line.
"I came from a work culture where putting work before your personal life was rewarded. Working long hours and hardly ever taking leave were regarded as signs of strength. If you did that you were in a different league – that special league that got promoted, climbed the ladder, got more and more responsibility, and then had a heart attack, while wondering how on earth things ended up here.
"Impostor Syndrome was also real to me. By opening my laptop and working – on the beach, on safari, at a resort, in the car (not a brilliant idea), and on the plane – anywhere from Las Vegas to the Kruger National Park, I felt more "worthy." I was trying to prove to myself and to others that I truly was hardworking, competent, conscientious, trustworthy, loyal. Of course, if I wasn't all of those things to begin with, I wouldn't have been in that position."
With normal holidaying not an option for many, and with international travel increasingly difficult, we asked for your top tips on how to take annual leave and make it count!
LinkedIn follower Abdullah Alzahim said that "a relatively long trip to the mountains in the south of Saudi Arabia" made his day. "Cool weather, different terrains from my home town and a real break from work with the family is a real pleasure."
Marketing Manager Claire, who had her overseas holiday cancelled, said, "We are planning an itinerary that includes local day trips and a couple of overnight stays in new places. We are going to cover countryside, coast and city, and have strict "no-phone days." And we are going to buy and cook some Greek food so we can still have a taste of the Mediterranean!"
Content Editor Kevin Dunne also had a novel idea for overcoming the restrictions on international travel. He explained, "My partner and I have done a house swap with friends in Suffolk... completely free of charge to all parties, petrol money the only cost. We did it in the light of 'price gouging' for staycations."
In our #MTtalk Twitter chat this Friday, hosted by Yolande Conradie, we asked if annual leave really is still leave if we're constantly in contact with work.
Here are the questions we asked during the one-hour chat and some of your most insightful responses:
Q1. What are the benefits of taking leave and completely disconnecting from work?
@JKatzaman Disconnecting from work relieves a whole bunch of pent-up pressure. The drawback is worrying about catching up on the work that wasn't done while you were away – or worse, someone did your work better than you have.
@Midgie_MT Taking a complete break gives you the mental and physical space to rest, relax and recharge your internal batteries.
Q2. How does failing to disconnect from work affect us?
@virtudeskcom This will be unhealthy and could lead to mental health problems.
@pavelStepanov77 Your life will not be fulfilling and you lose your chance to enjoy it. That would be depressing and may cause a more serious mental problem.
Q3. Do you feel guilty when you take leave? Why/why not?
@Yolande_MT I have often felt guilty in the past because it felt like I left my colleagues in the lurch.
@llake Why should anyone feel guilty about leaving work? Guilty is a manmade construct. If you need to leave, leave. I trust you to be responsible for yourself and your commitments.
Q4. If you (or a co-worker) are known as the "go to" person, whose problem is it when you're away?
@SustainedLeader A leader's true sense of accomplishment is reflected by how well the team performs in the leader's absence.
@SizweMoyo Everyone does their best until the "go-to" guy gets back. We may not be as good at their job, but we'll do our best while he's away.
Q5. Work is likely part of your identity. How does that influence your decision about leave?
@ThakoreVu It holds you back while taking leave or forces you back on work early. The best way is to detach yourself on time.
@DrKashmirM I have a different take: job title, job, riches, success, status is never permanent, soul power is permanent. Job, wealth, titles are our clothes; but first body that wears those must be healthy and given first priority.
Q6. What other fears/beliefs/practicalities feed our struggles to switch off from work?
@harrisonia Fears/beliefs/practicalities that feed our struggles to switch off from work: letting people down, being the weak link, not finishing on time, jeopardizing your reputation or that of your company.
@llake We will be replaced. Pay cuts. Severed from employment. Low self-esteem. Over-valuing work position. We won't be missed. Disconnected from our inner being.
Q7. Some of us are WFH and then OLAH (on leave at home). What's the difference?
@PG_pmp WFH one is still occupied in office-related tasks, but leave from home means one is not engaged in office tasks; spending time with family or passion or any other area of interest.
@DhongdeSupriya I try to keep my phone away, keep my laptop in [my] bag. Wear comfy casual clothes and take that entitled nap – and it makes perfect OLAH.
Q8. What would you like your leave to be like?
(How about just going on holiday without posting everything on social media?)
@carriemaslen Ideal leave = family time in a relaxing place and coming back to work without "paying the price" for taking time off.
@Dwyka_Consult As long as possible, doing as little as I can, spending as much time with my family as I can.
Q9. What will you do to ensure that you disengage from work when you're next on leave?
@MikeBarzacchini Avoid work email, completely, if possible. Take social media apps off my phone or at least hide them. Have a plan on how you're going to spend your time, even if that plan is as loose as "sunrise and sunset beach walks."
@MicheleDD_MT Bring no devices, except a camera. Make sure that hand-offs at work are in place. Put an OOO on my email – cannot be reached.
Q10. What can you/your organization do to support employees to take leave and disconnect?
@MarkC_Avgi DO NOT have a policy that pays out unused vacation. I have known people that did not take vacations just to get the "extra" money. Encourage (and remind) people to take their vacations, and then leave them alone (do not contact them) while they are away.
@bluesummitsupp I have learned that it is especially important for individuals in leadership positions to lead by example when they take leave. Whether they realize it or not, they have a huge impact on the culture of their work environment and employee behaviors.
To read all the tweets, take a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.
If, while you're on leave, you realize that your team operate well in your absence and that they aren't manager-dependent, the realization will probably act as a trust builder. But, in our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know more about the things that might break your trust. So please participate here.
In the meantime, if you want to explore the topic that we covered this week – "Is Annual Leave Still Leave?" – check out the resources below. (Please note some of these may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club and to Mind Tools for Business licensees.)
Mike Barzacchini explores what to do when you're feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired at work.
For many people, a basic pre-pandemic routine was eat, work, sleep, repeat! They were caught in a rat race, and their employers didn't really care. The goal was to produce, produce, produce!
When your eyelids are feeling a little heavy, you might be tempted to reach for the caffeine or simply power through to the end of the day. Instead, new research suggests that napping may well have been the answer all along.