Burnout is real. And it’s the last thing you need for the holidays.
Listen, we know that’s really hard. It’s actually verging on a national crisis. According to Project: Time Off (PTO—get it?), Americans lose 662 million vacation days annually. 46 percent of young people check in with work “occasionally” on vacation, and 32 percent check “frequently.”
More than ever before in history, there’s a very real fear that logging off will negatively affect how you’re perceived at work. But while taking your brain out of work mode may seem inaccessible, but numerous studies have shown that it’s super beneficial and actually necessary for your health and well-being.
Not sure where to start? We got you.
Fight those bad thoughts
Every time you open your email outside of work, you open yourself up to a bucketload of anxiety (and an increased risk of stress.) So if you’re one of the 26 percent of people who think taking time off means displaying a lack of dedication, let’s help you deconstruct that notion.
Prepping in advance is probably the most important thing. “The first step, regardless of your workplace culture around time off,” says Cait DeBaun, director of PTO, “is planning your time off. Employees who plan are more likely to use all their time off, take longer breaks, and are happier with their job, relationships, and health.”
Worried that someone will be fired or there’ll be a true work emergency? To be real, you probably aren’t the “be all and end all” of the survival of your team. Just stay organized and keep your colleagues and clients informed.
Consultant Avery Blank suggests physically removing yourself your computer or phone. But if you can’t really stay offline, she recommends setting yourself up with a strict regimen: “Designate a certain number of times per day and a certain amount of time in each instance to check in with work/your e-mail.”
You can even log off all accounts, turn off notifications, and make a “Do Not Open” folder on your phone to break the habit and keep your obsession at bay.
Designate a co-worker as your point of accountability
We know you’re already breaking down the barriers of workplace culture, and you’ve probably got a work wife by your side. This is the perfect time of year to enlist her help, or the help of someone who you really trust in the office.
Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of O2E Brands, recommends designating someone at work to be your single point of accountability while you’re away. Give them your number (even your passwords if you want to go dark), and they can text you when your away.
Just make sure it’s for good reasons. “Unplugging is all about the preparation beforehand,” he says. “Make sure the people covering for you have the information they need to do their job.” So sit down with your coworker before you leave, and identify specific reasons you’d be willing to be contacted.
If any of these things happen, you’ll hear from them. If not, you’ll be free to continue sipping the Mai Tai. She’s not doing your job for you, but she is helping you out. Maybe you can return the favor next time she goes on vacation. And if you really feel like that isn’t enough, give her a little gift for her help.
Lead by example
As PTO points out, 76 percent of employees said that if their bosses led more by example when it comes to taking time off, they’d follow suit. This means that real workplace change depends on the people in charge.
So we’re looking at you, literal bosses. Be kind to your vacationing employees, and openly discuss the importance of time off in the workplace. And when you’re taking your own vacation, lead by example.
Communicate with your employees and then unplug as much as possible. DeBaun opened up to her employees just by talking about her vacation. “Last year, my mom and I took a week-long trip to Paris. It was a dream trip and I didn’t keep it a secret. By normalizing time off, employees feel more empowered to take it themselves.”
And when you come back recharged and full of new ideas, people will thank you. If you run your own business, Blank recommends that you “set boundaries, and proactively communicate expectations to your clients.”
DeBaun agrees. “Having your own gig comes with a lot of pressures, but in the end, taking time off is going to give you the space and creative boost that only benefits your business in the long run.” And in terms of communicating with clients, clarity and preparation are key:
“Try to set boundaries—only signing in an hour in the morning—if you are going to stay plugged in so that work doesn’t overtake your time off.”
Don’t Be A Work Martyr
PTO calls our afraid-of-vacation generation “work martyrs.” It’s largely the fault of company culture, but there’s something you can do about it. If your workplace isn’t actively discussing the importance of time off, it’s time to stick up for yourself.
Avery Blank suggests just going for it. “Prove your worth so that they value what you value,” she says. “Demonstrate that time off makes you a better, more productive employee.”
In her personal experience, DeBaun notes that “getting that time away is not only good for me, but for my team. It demonstrates the trust I have in them to move projects along and troubleshoot in my absence. The way they do it may not be exactly what I would do, but that’s okay (because it’s probably smarter!).”
The science is behind it, so go for it. It actually replenishes your ability to work.
Take advantage of the holiday season
The holidays are stressful enough. Through the cloud of money woes, crazed sales, and delayed flights, you might think this is a bad time to really take off work. Partially, that’s true. “Without planning, it can get messy,” DeBaun says, referring to the almost-crisis in airline pilots this December.
But fear not! “Organizations that understand the importance of vacation—like LinkedIn and TED—realized the holidays are a good time to give everyone a break, instituting holiday shutdowns. By closing the whole office, everyone can unplug without worrying about the work piling up or missing an opportunity.”
And even if you’re not at an organization that’s going completely dark for the holidays, there’s a lot to take advantage of this month.
“The holidays can be an easier time to log off,” says Blank, “because a lot of other people are doing the same, so the flow of work generally slows down. Give yourself permission to do less work.”
So cozy up with a book by the fire, and bask in the glory of asking for what you need. You earned it!