Australia enjoys one of the world’s highest levels of annual leave, with a minimum of four weeks a year for full-time workers. Yet 58 per cent of us do not take our full entitlement -- partly due to FOTAL (Fear Of Taking Annual Leave).
A survey by Princess Cruises found eight out of ten Aussies admitted feeling guilty when they're relaxing and a third revealed that even the thought of relaxing stressed them out.
Making matters worse, two-thirds of Australian workers used their annual holidays to handle personal obligations such as family emergencies, attending medical and dental appointments and running errands.
Clinical and coaching psychologist and founder of The Positivity Institute Dr Suzy Green told The Huffington Post Australia the findings showed Aussies were over-worked and over-stressed.
"The negative emotions around taking annual leave relate mainly to what it might mean if you take time off from work or aren’t perceived to be a 'hard worker'," Green said.
"Guilt and fear primarily comes from workers feeling like they have no value if they’re not busy or working hard and that if they’re not valued, they’ll potentially be replaced or lose their job.
"There’s also guilt in terms of the impact on others and not wanting team mates to be annoyed or angry for taking leave and the repercussions on them."
She said the survey showed that Australians needed to create clear boundaries around engaging in work-related activities such as checking and responding to emails and phone calls.
"It’s really important to separate our work life from our personal life and create a better balance," Green said.
"One of the greatest challenges at the moment is that the boundaries around work are changing with greater flexibility being offered to work at home and more people choosing to go down the entrepreneurial path and be self-employed."
She said for those working at home or running their own business, the challenges were often greater, particularly if you didn’t have a separate office where you can shut the door on work.
“Some people are choosing to create a 'third space' between home and work where they are able to transition from one role into the other," Green said.
"This can be done via a change of clothes that suggests when I’m at home I’m relaxed but primarily it’s a mindset shift.
“Using a few minutes in the car before coming in to greet the family can help you be clear on the person you ideally want to be and to increase your levels of mindfulness to be present with your family when you’re at home rather than still being mentally at work."
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Dr Green’s tips:
1. Be clear on what matters most; your core life values. When given the opportunity to reflect on this, most people realise it’s their family, friends and relationships that matter most. Once you’re clear on what’s important, reflect on how well that value is currently being lived. Many people realise that work is interfering with the quality of their relationships and that in many cases they are giving their “best self” to work and not to the people they love most.
2. Be mindful of the types of thoughts that are creating your guilt. 'I shouldn’t be taking time off', 'It’s going to be awful to return to work', 'My team’s gong to hate me' are all types of thoughts that will create feelings of guilt and fear that will interfere with your capacity to fully benefit from your precious time away from work. Identify the types of thoughts that will allow you to truly relax and de-stress such as 'This leave is really important for my general health and well-being', 'I deserve this break and I’m giving myself permission to relax'.
3. Have a holiday game plan. Be proactive about planning your time off from work. Ideally we need annual leave, mini-breaks (seasonal) and micro-breaks (daily/weekly). Plan your next holiday while you’re on leave and book it in well in advance so you have something to anticipate and look forward to. And don’t underestimate the power of mini or micro breaks also as they can be just as refreshing.