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Going on Holiday? How Not to Take Work Home with You

How will you be spending the festive holidays? If there’s a good chance you’ll be answering emails and catching up on work (in between wrapping presents and decorating the tree) it’s time to re-think your priorities.

Working during holiday time may seem harmless but it can seriously damage your career as well as your health. “Evidence shows that people who work long hours without taking breaks are far less productive and more likely to experience burn out in the long run,” warns career coach Ruth Winden of Careers Enhanced.

It’s not just your mental wellbeing and career that can suffer. Putting in excessive hours and taking work home can damage your relationships, stopping you from enjoying quality time with family and friends. It can even lead to marriage breakdown.

A healthy work-life balance involves taking holidays – ones where you unplug completely – and is one of the best ways to help prevent stress. When you do return to work, you’re far more likely to feel refreshed and be on top of your game.

Time to unplug

The rise of portable Internet devices means that we’re constantly connected. While many people feel guilty if they don’t respond to out-of-hours work requests, believing that you should read and respond to queries immediately only puts pressure on yourself – while being available 24/7 is self-defeating and impairs your performance.

The solution? Take control and literally “switch off” over the holidays and on weekends and evenings, advises Professor Stephen Palmer, PhD, of the Centre for Stress Management.

“If you perceive yourself to be in control of a situation or life in general, you will suffer less stress, anxiety and depression compared with others who do not see themselves in control,” he says.

Unless you’re paid to be on call, disable the roaming device on your smartphone or tablet and keep the laptop unplugged. Research suggests that it takes only three weeks of working in a certain way before we adopt the behaviour as normal. This could be a negative pattern, such as taking work home with you every weekend, or a positive one – like switching off devices as soon as you leave the office.

Prepare for time off

If you find it hard to switch off and enjoy your holiday time, the following four tips may help:

  1. Hand over important tasks well in advance and ensure your manager is aware of who is covering you. Plan ahead and it will be easier to relax and forget about the office.
  1. Give your manager a means of contacting you in case of a legitimate emergency. That way you won’t feel obliged to constantly check-in with the office or read your emails.
  1. If you know you’re going to miss a deadline because of taking holiday, inform the relevant stakeholders as soon as possible and suggest alternatives – by bringing more people on to the project or extending the deadline, for example.
  1. When starting a new job, ask when the company’s peak times of year are and try to schedule time off around them. When you know work isn’t piling up (too much) in your absence, it’s much easier to switch off.

So as the holidays approach and you take time away from the office, focus on spreading cheer instead of catching up on work, and you’re sure to have a merrier holiday season.

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