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How to switch off from work | Relaxing on annual leave

How to switch off on annual leave

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    Many of us find that we’re ‘always on’ when it comes to work. Technology is inescapable, allowing our work life to invade our home life. With the boundaries so blurred, the pressures of work can even follow us on holiday. We’ve all either sent, or been on the receiving end, of an email sent at 3am or from a sun lounger! So what’s the secret to getting out of work mode?

    To switch off from work it’s essential to establish boundaries and create time each day to prioritise your wellbeing. Establishing healthy habits both at home and at work can reduce stress and help you to relax more during your hard-earned annual leave.

    Fortunately, employers have woken up to the importance of mental health in recent years, and there is growing support to help relieve stress in the workplace.

    Leadership teams and HR specialists have a huge role to play of course, but as an employee, you also have a responsibility to your employer – and more importantly, yourself – to switch off from work.

    The importance of switching off from work

    Most of us realise that we need to find time in our routine to unwind for the sake of our good mental health. But often, this is overtaken by our desire to be a ‘responsible employee’ and prove our commitment to our jobs.

    But are you really being a ‘responsible employee’ by being always available and working yourself to the bone around the clock?

    To do your job to the best of your ability requires focus and energy. If work stress is affecting you outside of the office, and you regularly find yourself working late into the night, you will undoubtedly feel worse the in the morning.

    And tiredness and anxiety are the enemies of productivity. Despite the unpaid overtime, you will simply not be performing at your best.

    If you fail to find time to relax in the evening and at weekends, take regular breaks in the day, turn off your work phone or delegate once in a while, then something’s going to give; and that something is you.

    Nobody is indestructible or impervious to burn out. Deep down we know this, but many are inclined to push themselves to the limit nonetheless.

    Why is it hard to switch off from work?

    Toxic workplace cultures and unreasonable workloads are obviously going to take their toll on an employee’s wellbeing. This is not OK. If it sounds all too familiar and you’re struggling, then you need to speak up, if not to your line manager then to a member of your HR team.

    But for some people, their evenings, weekends and holiday time are dogged by constant work thoughts, even if their work environment is great and their working day is reasonably manageable.

    So why can’t some of us simply switch off from work while some can leave their worries in the office?

    Some would philosophise that it is a need for control, a warped sense of responsibility or inflated self-importance that causes obsession with work. Some are just consumed by their job because it is their passion, and ‘work mode’ is their default. Fair enough!

    But for most people, the worry of something going wrong at work, looming deadlines, meeting nerves, potential conflict and a hundred and one other things about their job is enough to keep them awake at night and ruin their holiday.

    Undoubtedly, our constant exposure to technology feeds stress and nurtures unhealthy habits, such as obsessively checking work emails never switching off the work phone.

    This is bad enough at home, but when those habits come with us on holiday, our one big escape of the year, it leaves us vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression.

    How to relax on annual leave

    Before you head for the hills, there are things in your control that can reduce work anxiety while you’re away, and create a less stressful return to the office.

    Leave a detailed handover

    Take some time out of your schedule (in office hours ideally!) to pull together comprehensive notes on where you’re at with each of your tasks and projects. If that’s not possible, then brief your co-workers face-to-face.

    Remember to make any files, contact details and correspondence accessible to your colleagues so that they can deal with any issues as they arise.

    Consider recording short tutorials or instructions for others to use while you’re away.

    Delegate, delegate, delegate!

    If you truly believe that you are the only one that can do your job or that the company can’t survive without you, then you either have an inflated sense of your importance or your team structure isn’t working. If it’s the latter then address the issue as soon as you can.

    Otherwise, delegate!

    If your role is unique in your organisation, then it may be that projects need to go on hold while you’re away. You are entitled to guilt-free time off after all, and it’s entirely down to your employer to provide cover if necessary.

    Try to resolve outstanding issues

    Try not to leave tasks in mid-air before you go on holiday. Easier said than done, granted, you don’t want things hanging over you while you’re away, and chances are that niggling problem will be worse when you get back.

    If there’s something that just can’t be resolved, hand it over to a colleague. Try not to feel guilty – you will do the same for them when they are away.

    Manage Expectations and Turn off the tech

    Set the scene, manage expectations by letting your clients and colleagues know that you will not be contactable while you’re away. At the very least, give them a window of time each day in which they can contact you if it is completely necessary.

    Same goes for evening working, too – you don’t owe all your time to your job. Step away at a reasonable hour and turn off your laptop and phone.

    If your boss is annoyed that they can’t reach you at 9pm, then remind them that you are being a responsible employee and recharging your batteries in order to be more productive the next day!

    How to switch off from work on a daily basis

    If you are relying on seven days out of 365 to restore your mind, body and spirit, then you are destined for failure! Instead, make sure you prioritise self care at the end (or beginning, or middle) of the working day.

    With long working hours considered the norm and the constant ‘noise’ of 21st century living, it’s essential to find time after to peacefully reflect on the day’s events to restore your energy and focus for the next day.

    “But there aren’t enough hours in the day!”. I hear you. But you need to make time. It is your life after all, and us humans have a way of fitting in those things that we consider a priority. And the smallest of changes can make a big difference.

    Here are a few top tips that you can try – today! – after a long day in the office.

    Cook dinner

    Don’t reach for the takeaway app, “grab something on the way home” or “stick something in the microwave” as a default. It may be impractical for you to cook every day, but perhaps commit to cooking for yourself/partner/family once or twice a week.

    It will force you to concentrate on something else rather than work and give you a quiet sense of satisfaction.

    With the slew of recipe box subscriptions available nowadays, there’s no need for meal planning or going to the supermarket.

    Walk off your worries

    The need for daily exercise is a no-brainer, but gym memberships, work out gear and PTs are pricey. But fresh air is definitely free. Instead of flicking on the TV or scrolling social media, grab your shoes and get outside for an evening stroll.

    Even if you live in a city or don’t consider yourself the outdoors type, there’s no denying the physical and mental benefits of a good walk. Getting oxygen in your lungs and your blood circulating will help reduce stress and induce a positive mood – just remember to put your phone on silent!

    Practice mindfulness

    Mindfulness techniques have become mainstream and are widely recognised for their ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Mindful activities, such as breathing exercises and meditation, force us to live in the moment rather than in our head, helping to keep work concerns in perspective.

    Mind has great advice on mindfulness techniques, and there are countless apps out there to help.

    Establish a good bedtime routine

    Do not underestimate the power of restorative sleep! It is far the best thing you can do for your brain and body. We all know the drill – go to bed at the same time every day, avoid blue light, caffeine, alcohol and heavy meals in the evening…but few actually follow these rules to the letter.

    Approach sleep as you would any other luxury or self-reward – you’re worth it!

    Can HR help?

    Happy, supported employees who know exactly what is expected of them are less prone to stress and health issues and make better workers – it is as simple as that. Fortunately, more and more employers are recognising this.

    HR departments should absolutely be the driving force in prioritising wellbeing strategies. Organisations with stretched resources can always reach out to external employee health and wellbeing specialists, or there are countless online resources to help (here’s a good place to start). Contact our team of HR experts today, to find out how OutThere can help you.


    If you’re struggling to switch off from work on holiday, then it’s time to establish some new healthy habits.

    Be sure to set boundaries, turn off the tech once in a while and incorporate self care into your daily routine. Not only will you have a much more fun and relaxing holiday, you will become a more productive employee and a far happier human!

    Picture of Sarah Close
    Sarah Close

    Sarah is the Founder and Managing Director at OutThere. She has a demonstrated history of working in the Executive Search, People Strategy and Human Resources space. To talk to Sarah, please call or complete our website contact form.

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    OutThere is an HR and Recruitment Process Outsourcing Company. We provide access to great HR, Recruitment and Training Talent that is not necessarily required or affordable to businesses on a full time basis.

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