Why do we feel ‘holiday guilt’ and how can you stop it?

Tips from workplace psychologist, Dr Lynda Folan, Managing Director at Inspired Development

What is holiday guilt?

Do you ever get that nagging guilty feeling when you finally take some well-earned time off work? Well, you are not alone. Feeling ‘holiday guilt’ is a common phenomenon for many people. If you’re used to being busy and productive in your workplace, it can be challenging to allow yourself to switch off, especially if you have a lot of responsibilities or people to manage.

You’ll be happy to hear that you don’t have to feel that way and there are ways to stop the nagging guilt…

Plan ahead for a proper break

One of the most effective ways to stop yourself from feeling guilty is to plan ahead and make sure all your work is taken care of in your hand-over. Try and complete as many tasks as you can before you take time off. Make sure that all the leftover tasks are understood and covered. If anything needs to be urgently dealt with, make sure your colleagues know. Knowing that you took the time to properly delegate your tasks will relieve some of that anxiety and will stop you from dreading a major workload when you return.

Set yourself boundaries

It can also be helpful to set boundaries not just with your workplace - but with yourself. Many people are tempted to check and answer emails while on holiday but it can be good to set the boundary of not allowing yourself to check it. Some people find it helpful to delete their email app from their phone so they're not getting notifications and are less tempted to check it. It may also be helpful to mute work group chats on WhatsApp and Slack.

Communicate expectations with your colleagues and clients

It’s also equally important to set boundaries with your colleagues too. Ask that you’re only contacted for emergencies on things that absolutely need your approval if there isn’t another team member available to deal with any issues while you’re away. There’s nothing worse than constant phone calls and emails when you’re trying to relax, so clearly communicate boundaries about your response time and availability. If you work with clients, communicate with them to let them know which colleagues they can contact while you’re away. Make this clear in your out-of-office automation email too.

Value the importance of rest

After your break, reflect on the benefits of the rest you just had. Studies have shown that breaks from work can prevent burnout and improve your overall health. People also return to work more focused and productive after a break. The rest you took can serve as a restart for your brain and new experiences on your break could spark renewed creativity and ideas for your work. Once you recognise the benefits of rest, it can help you resist the feelings of guilt for your next holiday.

Set the example

If answering emails and calls during your break is the norm in your workplace, set an example and create proper boundaries when you go on holiday. Especially if you’re in a management position, change the unwritten rules about always making yourself available and exemplify that taking a proper break can actually make your work better.