Holiday Angst

Vacations are your chance to relax and unwind, but can you really detach from emails, cellphones and notifications?  

by Sandra Eagle

Going on vacation is your chance to relax, unwind and enjoy the incredibly short Canadian summer. But with our 24/7 attachment to emails, cellphones and notifications, how can you really detach and renew your spirit? Julie McCarthy, a professor in the department of Management at the University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus and The Rotman School of Management, advises busy executives on how to strategize their vacations to ensure they get the maximum value from their time off.

McCarthy says you actually get two kinds of stress relief when you take a holiday. One is the anticipatory thrill of the coming vacation, and the other is the actual time off from work. “From research we know we need work recovery time in order for us to get our energy back, be resilient, more productive and happy. What happens when we don’t take time off is that we are subject to burnout and it takes much longer to accomplish strategic plans.”

McCarthy says the optimal length of a vacation should be one week, but taken multiple times, so that you can go through the cycles of anticipation, fun and relaxed aftermath several times throughout the year.

How to engage with work while on holiday is another thorny issue. Working half a day while on vacation is hardly relaxing, so she suggests spending a dedicated amount of time each day (if you must) responding to email. She says people may be able to make their vacation time successful if they communicate they will answer email in a certain amount of time and then be off the grid.

You also need to map out what you’ll be doing on your holiday to destress, which can be broken down to three types of experiences. Psychological detachment (just not thinking about work); relaxation (sitting on a dock reading a book); or learning a new skill (learning how to make jewellery or paint). McCarthy says some executives she has coached head to exotic locales just so they can’t be reached by any method.

McCarthy also says that it’s critical for us all to have daily recovery sessions built into our workday as boundaries between work and home have been eliminated with our connection to technology. “It’s important for individuals to set boundaries. You should plan and block some time every day to have a recovery experience. Every individual is different. For some it might be taking a book outside to read for one hour, for others it could be weeding the garden or cooking. Whatever allows you to rejuvenate on a daily basis is important.”

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