The benefits of taking a real holiday from work

Keep that post-holiday feeling alive as long as you can

5 tips for getting the biggest benefit from your time away from the office. SPONSORED CONTENT


In our connected digital age, we can keep working 24/7, even when we’re on holiday. But according to organisational psychologists and neuroscientists, failing to take a proper break isn’t just bad for us – it’s bad for business.

When Andrew, overworked from his demanding job, took his family on a caravan holiday, out of internet range, he’d never felt more relaxed.

After a week unplugged from his laptop and mobile, spending days bush walking and nights sitting around a campfire, he felt refreshed and clear headed. But back in civilisation on Sunday night his inbox revealed more than 3000 emails. After spending half the night trying to deal with them, and a frantic Monday morning catching up at work, he felt like he’d never been away.

This is precisely the reason so many executives take their work on holiday. According to organisational psychologist Charmaine Bourke – who coaches blue-chip executives on stress management and productivity – the stress levels caused by our post-holiday build-up of work can wipe out the benefit of the break.

Taking regular holidays actually lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.

“Unless managed properly, the uplift in well-being caused by holidays can be really short-lived. Research shows the benefits often fade after four days – for many of us, it feels like four hours!"

“So people continue to check their emails while they’re away to relieve the pressure when they get back.”

However, she cautions against this.

“You don’t get any real benefits from a holiday unless you ‘detach’ from work – which means unplugging from every single back-lit screen. Research shows people who successfully detach from work are more satisfied with their lives and experience fewer symptoms of psychological strain.”

And, by the way, those "symptoms of psychological strain” can include numerous emotional and physical disorders, including depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension and immune system disturbances that increase our susceptibility to infections and viruses.

Bourke isn’t kidding around when she advises her clients to detach and take a proper break: “There’s some pretty solid research that suggests taking regular holidays actually lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.”

More than a health benefit

But freeing our mind from work while on holiday isn’t just better for our health – and our relationships – it also makes us more effective in business.

“Job stresses like time pressure and constant demands on our attention deplete our energy and our creative resources. The human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus we ask of it these days, so professionals often suffer from both physical and cognitive exhaustion.

“Holidays replenish our physical and mental ‘energy banks’, allowing us to dig deeper and think smarter when we return to work,” says Bourke.

“A holiday won’t magically transform us, but being stress free contributes to diverse thinking and high levels of mental agility. That feeling of getting things in perspective when we get away on holiday is real: taking a break literally frees our thinking and broadens our perspective.

“You may have experienced this phenomenon while driving or taking a shower. Breakthroughs in thinking seem to come out of nowhere.”

She says that when we return to work after a break, performance improves.

“Performance ratings go up by 8 per cent after even one day of holiday. A series of studies in Europe proved that workers who feel mentally and physically refreshed find their work effortless, are willing to help colleagues and display other forms of productive behaviour.”

5 tips for getting the biggest benefits from your holiday

But how do we avoid the stress of work building up while we’re away? Bourke advises executives to detach and take control of the process to sustain their holiday benefits for as long as possible.

  1. Spread out your holidays –plan short holidays and regular long weekends that get you completely away from the rat race – hit the road on a motorcycle for a few days!
  2. Exercise as soon as you’ve finished work – this helps you to disconnect from work, flushes out stress hormones and stops you getting sick as soon as you collapse on the first days of your break.
  3. Control contact with work – tell your staff you won’t answer texts or emails while on holiday, but they can call you (between specific times) if it’s really important. This stops you from checking your phone (they don’t need you unless it rings) and it makes staff think twice before they disturb your holiday.
  4. Date your “out of office” email reply a day after your return – this will give you a day of grace, helping you to ease back into work, get on top of your emails and plan the week ahead.
  5. Start slowly – go back to work on a Wednesday, not a Monday, or gradually build up working times during your first week back at the office.

There’s no doubt we all need a holiday. But it won’t do us any good unless we manage it carefully.

Charmaine Bourke is the Co-founder of Aspect Consulting. She works with high-potential leaders and executive teams in blue-chip companies across the Asia-Pacific. She is an expert in coaching for resilience and managing workplace stress and anxiety.



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