Writer Olivia has not taken a legitimate leave in years—on paper it says she’s out of office, but she spends vacations glued to her phone, waiting for the next Viber message or Teams notification for fear that she might miss something important.
Emerging from two years of remote work that turned bedrooms and living rooms into offices, employees are finding it hard to disconnect, especially when Instagram and TikTok live in the same devices as work apps.
“I feel like if I'm not working or if I'm just lying around, I have this guilt. I know in some level that's wrong, that I have every right to rest but when I do rest, I can't shake off that guilt. So it's an endless cycle of anxiety and guilt, like trying to relax but when you relax you feel anxious. Do I believe that it’s fair? No. But can I stop it? No,” Olivia said.
“[People] have a goal in their careers, you want to be able to achieve a lot of things. Getting promoted, getting a higher salary or just being acknowledged that you're doing something relevant and meaningful in the work that they do. The tendency of people is they would rather spend most of their time at work,” life coach Shuan de Joya said.
Much like Olivia, workers across the globe are allergic to taking breaks. According to de Joya, there are three primary sources of fear when going on leave: “It's the culture of scarcity. That's one, then a culture of aversion, then culture of unworthiness.”
Why you can’t take a leave
Scarcity refers to a lack of resources such as time and manpower to get things done. Because of this, employees feel they need to work twice as hard and skip leaves just to meet deadlines. Going on leave could set the calendar back.
Aversion is avoiding leaves altogether because it doesn’t match company culture and expectations. “This is where you feel shame, you feel guilty. You know, a lot of emotions where you begin to ask yourself if what you're doing is something societally or culturally okay, or acceptable,” de Joya said.
The last, unworthiness, is when employees think they don’t deserve a break at all. “People just believe that they're not enough, that they don't deserve to go on leave, they need to constantly be proving themselves or building their own brand, and that it's okay eventually for them to go and leave,” he said.
Oftentimes, people also feel they can’t afford to take leaves because money needs to be made even on overtime.
Olivia would argue she goes on leave, until she quietly follows it up with a disclaimer: she still opens work communication just in case something goes wrong. She also feels guilty going on break when others are working.
“When they go on leave and when they return to work, there's a lot of work that needs to be done, they feel that being away from the work that they will just put so much stress back when they return,” de Joya said.
“During those times when they’re de-stressing they're still stressed because they think about the deliverables.”
So how do you take a leave?
Proactive before reactive
Before you even reach the point of burnout and you need to take a leave because you’re on the hospital bed, it’s best to avoid that outcome in the first place.
De Joya said workers have to be proactive and not reactive—outline your boundaries and take steps to honor them instead of taking leaves because the lines dividing your life have eroded.
Boundaries are everything
“That is really the challenge of employees these days; it’s creating boundaries between when is my time off and when is my time for work,” De Joya said, adding that the pandemic has eliminated the clear line between life and work.
“Eight to five is my work, anything beyond that is my personal time because I need to take care of myself. You cannot give what you don't have. If you don’t have time to yourself, what time are you giving to people?” he added.
Little pockets of rest during work days should be seized and spent intentionally, as they allow for small doses of recharge.
Talk to your boss
Your boss might seem like an invincible force who never fails, but they’re just as stressed out as you are.
“I believe that some bosses are reasonable. You can talk to them, you can explain to them your need as a human being, we are human beings. We're not robots,” de Joya said. “Have a conversation with them, set clear agreements on how and when you will work, you know, have that conversation clearly so that your expectations and your boss’ expectations are clear.”
Your boss is human too. Chances are high that your boss understands what you’re going through and is open to finding an arrangement that lets you take a breather so you can come back refreshed and inspired.
“When you are talking to your boss, you are able to find something in common, and that's gonna take time,” de Joya said. Still, effort should be put in trying to communicate. “It has to be relational, not transactional.”
You deserve a break. It’s hard to feel like you do, but it starts with awareness of feelings. “Be aware of how you’re responding to other people, be aware of your emotions,” de Joya said.
Acknowledge your feelings, no matter how uncomfortable. Thoughts like “I fear that my boss would shout at me, that he would tell me I’m not doing my part. I fear that my boss would make me feel that I'm irrelevant.”
Last, take action. Your negative thoughts might be all yours and don’t actually match how your colleagues value you. “You can only do that if you continue to experiment and talk to other people or talk to your boss about it,” de Joya said.