5 Steps to a Stress-Free Vacation from Work

With the holidays around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about taking some time off from work. That can be difficult for some of us who suffer from “workaholism,” a condition common to people in the Tri-State area. We work harder and longer than most people, and then feel guilty about taking some well-earned time off. This is not only unnecessary, it’s potentially unhealthy. Taking time off has shown to be healthy for our body, mind, and spirit, and can actually improve our overall outlook and productivity when we return to work. Here’s how to take time off from work without feeling bad about it.

Step 1: Be strategic with your days off.

When scheduling your vacation days in advance, look at a calendar and be strategic about it. Take time off when it’s not your busy season. Consider returning to work a day earlier than you announce, to build in some extra time to ease into your work routine. Also, try to avoid booking anything important the day before your vacation or the first day back. And plan effectively so you can leave work a few hours early the day before, rather than doing what many people do and leave late, adding substantially to their stress level.

Step 2: Let colleagues know you’ll be away. 

Managers and coworkers will appreciate advanced notice that you will be going away. Send a notice in writing via email, and, if necessary, schedule one or two brief meetings, or talk to colleagues one on one about ongoing projects, what could potentially come up, and who to contact in your absence. Leave a number where you can be reached if it is urgent—but more importantly — ask a trusted colleague to step in as the contact in your absence.

Step 3: Set up messages and email.

Before you leave, set away messages for your e-mail and voicemail, making sure to include your return date and the names and numbers of coworkers who can be contacted in your absence. Also give a copy of important files to a colleague who can step in on your behalf if the need arises.

Step 4: Disconnect when away.

You know how it goes: You finally take a vacation away from the office or business, but you can’t help yourself from checking email or calling in just to make sure everything’s OK. The problem with this seemingly responsible behavior is that it can confuse colleagues. If you say you are not working, but are checking and returning phone calls and emails, you’ll send a mixed message. This applies especially to managers, whose vacation behavior sets the tone for the entire group. If the boss answers e-mails within 30 minutes even while on vacation, the workers will likely assume they’re expected to do the same. More importantly, not disconnecting prevents a person from enjoying the mental, physical and even spiritual benefits of truly restorative downtime.

If your job responsibilities and/or company culture truly prevents you from totally disconnecting from work during vacations, try to limit how often you check in. Do what works for you, but realize the importance of limiting your work time when away.

Step 5: Give credit where it’s due.

Upon your return, block out some time the first few days to meet with your manager and/or colleagues to catch up on what occurred during your absence. Take time to acknowledge the good work of those who covered for you while away. If appropriate, bring back a small gift as a token of your appreciation.

Remember, you deserve this time off. Taking time away from work responsibly is healthy on many levels, from physical rest to renewing your spiritual purpose. So prepare ahead of time, talk to people, and don’t feel guilty about it. Taking earned time away can also show managers and coworkers that you respect healthy boundaries when it comes to work and life.