It’s a joke, right? Who wouldn’t want to take a break?
A surprising number of people, it turns out.
FOTAL – Fear Of Taking Annual Leave – is a thing.
A new survey of 1250 Australians found that two-thirds suffered from FOTAL and didn’t use all their leave because the build-up of work from being away created too much stress.
This isn’t even counting poor parents who are stressing about days away from work to care for sick kids.
More than three quarters of respondents (78 per cent) had guilt about taking a break while 67 per cent said they did at least a little work on their holiday.
The odd email or work call on a break is normal isn’t it? This is why we consciously choose places without mobile reception, surely?
But this is missing the point.
Technology has given many of us flexibility at work, which can be freedom from the shackles of the desk and the nine to five. But it can also result in work that spills well into our private lives and any attempt at a holiday.
FOTAL isn’t a clinical diagnosis, says Suzy Green, founder of the Positivity Institute, but it is common.
“I run a lot of workshops in the work place and I see it,” Green says of the FOTAL findings from the Princess Cruises National Relaxation survey.
“When you come back you have to deal with your inbox or in-tray. One to two days – or earlier – before you come back, you start thinking about it. You can’t even enjoy your holiday.”
The inability to switch off and enjoy downtime is particularly problematic considering 35 per cent of Australians are reporting significant levels of stress, according to the latest Australian Psychological Society Stress and Wellbeing survey.
Green notes that as well as the build-up of work while you’re away, knowing that the workload will fall onto colleagues can cause stress, as can a fear that your job will be taken if you take leave.
Understandable as it may be, Green says we have to realise that for productivity and work satisfaction, we need to be able to stop.
“The downtime is really important,” she emphasises. “You cannot sustain it without breaks. Even elite athletes need breaks.”
Those who run their own businesses find it a particular challenge, Green says. “It’s their livelihood.”
“I think you have to be realistic,” she adds. “Set boundaries around checking your emails and social media – check only once or twice a day.
“Try and proactively plan ahead so you’re really clear on how you want your holiday to be.”
This means realising that just having your phone nearby, without even checking it or having it facing up, interferes with interpersonal connection.
Having mindfulness – bringing your attention back into the here and now – rather than letting it drift into another place – your phone or work, for instance – can help keep you calm and enjoying where you are, Green says.
Life coach and author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, Elizabeth Grace Saunders, also suggests setting aside several days before you leave to tie up loose ends.
“Reserve at least the first day that you’re back in the office to get your head back into work and clear out your inboxes,” she advises. “It’s the office equivalent of getting your suitcases unpacked and your home back in order promptly instead of staying half unpacked for days or weeks on end …
“Finally, instead of focusing on the fact that you’re no longer on vacation, think about how grateful you are for the time you had away. Gratitude creates joy that can carry you through the initial shock of going back to ‘real life’.”
Green says it’s one thing to know how important switching off and planning is, it’s another to put that knowledge into action.
“It’s your life you’re talking about – your wellbeing and health and your relationships.”
Sarah Berry, Sydney Morning Herald