In an era where workaholism has been rebranded as #Hustle, how do we learn to establish down time as a non-negotiable? In a recent survey conducted by YouGov, some very stark statistics relating to work-life balance were uncovered.  

The survey found that: 

  • 52% of workers felt either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ stressed at work. 
  • 38% of workers felt either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ stressed when just thinking about work outside of working hours.  
  • 88% of works admit to thinking about work outside of working hours. 
  • More workers are doing unpaid overtime (49%) than work paid overtime (42%). 
  • 29% of workers work unpaid overtime at least once a week, including 11% who say they work unpaid overtime every working day. 

It’s clear to see that the majority of Brits feel overworked, to which the natural solution would surely be a well-deserved break, right? Sadly, it appears not.  

Many people are now suffering with what has been deemed, ‘Guilty Vacation Syndrome’ – whereby workers are experiencing nagging guilt related to taking time off from work. This is particularly common phenomenon during busy periods in a workplace, as employees adopt a time-scarcity mindset, where they feel as though there aren't enough hours in the day, and that they couldn't possibly take time off when there's so much to be done.  

Further research undertaken by Perkbox highlighted that 66% of Brits have experienced Guilty Vacation Syndrome, explaining that the sensation is most likely to be felt by those who are most in need of a break from work.  In many cases, these people devote excessive time to their work in order to feel competent, particularly if they feel less competent in other areas of their lives – this is particularly common among those with 'Type A' personalities who demonstrate traits of perfectionism. 

Taking a break is key to preventing workplace stress and burnout, and time away from your desk should be used to unwind rather than worry. We’ve compiled our 5 top tips for switching-off during your annual leave and making the most of your ‘you-time’’.  


1. Send a detailed handover before signing-off 

Ahead of your annual leave, it can be useful to make one big to-do list for that week. You can then track your progress before you come to write your handover - giving you total clarity on where your projects are up to. 

Covering all bases in your handover can ensure that your colleagues are all up to date on where things are at, preventing miscommunication and making sure that important work is continued in your absence. (For more tips on how to write a good handover email, click here.) 

A comprehensive handover can give you peace of mind that while you are away, your work is in good hands, reducing your inner urge to check your emails. 

2. Be honest with your colleagues 

If you don’t trust yourself to live in the moment and predict that your mind will wander back to work when on annual leave, let a colleague hold you accountable.  

This can feel particularly daunting if there's an inherent culture of excessive working in your workplace - due to the bandwagon effect, people's behaviour has a tendency to be influenced by collectively held beliefs, adopting behaviours which appear to be the 'norm' or popular. You’d be surprised at the number of people who may be feeling the same way as you, and are also in need of a proper break. 

Sitting down with someone you feel close with at work and letting them know that you struggle to wind down can help to establish a mutual understanding between you, and they will know to avoid contact with you unless completely necessary – they will also be likely to relay this message to your other team members. 

3. Turn off work notifications 

Mobile phones are both a blessing and a curse when it comes to being connected. When you are away from work, it can be too tempting to skim-read that one important email that just came through, but before you know it, you’ve worked through them all in a bid to get your inbox down to zero again. 

Time off should be spent completely away from work, and turning notifications off can prevent you from being sucked back in – out of sight, out of mind.  

If you are too prone to mindless scrolling and email refreshing, perhaps delete any work-based applications from your phone entirely – you can easily re-download when it’s time to go back to work. 

4. Keep occupied 

The change of pace can be quite difficult for some people to adjust to when it comes to having time off from work, which can lead to restlessness and ultimately, email checking or colleague messaging.  

If you struggle to keep away from work during time off, try and make plans or do things that you enjoy during your leave. If you start to feel that nagging holiday guilt, get up and do something to distract yourself – even if it’s walking the dog and listening to a podcast *hint*. 

5. Learn to enjoy it, and view it as an investment in your health and productivity 

The majority of people will work until they reach 66 years old. Think ahead to then, do you truly think you will look back and regret taking time off from work? Or will you be glad that you took the opportunity to wind down and make memories? If your answer is the latter, try to remind yourself that you have earned this time off and that nothing is so urgent that it cannot be handled in your absence or at a later date.  

You will likely find that your work performance improves after a rest – we’re only human after all! 


Can we change toxic mindsets towards work? 

It’s clear to see that many people struggle to assert clear boundaries between their working and personal lives, and a lot of the time, this is due to issues within the workplace’s own culture.  

Breaks are good for cognitive function. Overworking can reduce attention, concentration and leave you prone to making more errors in your work - from forgetting to attach a file with an email to your CEO, to sharing confidential information to somebody outside of your organisation.  

Until there is a complete cultural overhaul, where businesses are actively checking that their employees are taking proper care of themselves, it’s important to monitor your own workload and ensure that you are taking the proper steps to avoid burnout – which starts with making the most of your annual leave.