Switch­ing off from work on hol­i­day

Australian Traveller - - Contents -

“I think peo­ple need to have a stronger sense that we work to live, we don’t live to work .”

Thank you for your email.

I am cur­rently on an­nual leave, re­turn­ing Mon­day 25 Septem­ber. But I’ll prob­a­bly at­tend to your query any­way so you may as well just ig­nore this out of of­fice no­tice.

YOU’VE PROB­A­BLY NEVER re­ceived an au­to­mated re­ply like this one, but chances are you should have. Aus­tralians, af­ter all, are work­ing more than ever, and our an­nual leave is suf­fer­ing. A 2016 re­port from the Cen­tre for Fu­ture Work at The Aus­tralia In­sti­tute found Aus­tralian work­ers have about 48 mil­lion un­used hol­i­day days, or close to 10 mil­lion hol­i­day weeks. The col­lec­tive value of that un­used leave is more than $11 bil­lion. Mean­while, much of the an­nual leave that is be­ing cashed in by the Aus­tralian work­force may not be pro­vid­ing the nec­es­sary respite. A sur­vey con­ducted in 2014 by TripAdvisor found 73 per cent of Aus­tralians work while on hol­i­day, more than dou­ble the global av­er­age (33 per cent). Today’s dig­i­tal land­scape makes such ded­i­ca­tion – whether re­luc­tant or self-gen­er­ated – pos­si­ble. Most of us can be reached around-the-clock and many of us are per­ma­nently con­nected to the work­place via var­i­ous tech­nolo­gies. Pro­fes­sor Michael Leiter, or­gan­i­sa­tional psy­chol­o­gist at Deakin Univer­sity, ex­plains that this en­vi­ron­ment has blurred the lines be­tween work and play. “The bound­ary be­tween what is work and what is not work is par­tic­u­larly loose be­cause the kind of work peo­ple do now is not par­tic­u­larly tied to the place,” he says. “A lot of it is the kind of thing you can do any­where. Man­ag­ing that bound­ary is now sort of an oc­cu­pa­tional skill you have to have.” Yet it’s a skill many of us are yet to mas­ter. Of­ten driven by em­ployer pres­sure, per­sonal am­bi­tion or eco­nomic fears, Aus­tralian em­ploy­ees are giv­ing an in­creas­ing amount of their time away for free. This habit can threaten the kind of gen­uine men­tal break that al­lows us to re­vive and de-stress. It can also hin­der other hol­i­day ben­e­fits such as fam­ily bond­ing and im­proved phys­i­cal health and cre­ativ­ity. Econ­o­mist Dr Jim Stan­ford, Di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Fu­ture Work, ex­plains: “There’s a grow­ing will­ing­ness by peo­ple to take the phone, take the lap­top, check their email, make sure they’re avail­able to their work­place even if they are on leave,” he says. “That is a slip­pery slope, frankly. On the one hand you can say you just want to be there in case of emer­gency, but it’s very easy for that to morph into tak­ing a cou­ple of calls or an­swer­ing a cou­ple of emails every day and lo and be­hold the men­tal space you’re try­ing to get when you’re on leave starts to dis­ap­pear. The value of the hol­i­day can be sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­mined.” The so­lu­tion is not al­ways as sim­ple as switch­ing off. For those who work while on leave un­der pres­sure from man­age­ment, job se­cu­rity can feel vul­ner­a­ble. In such cases, there are gov­ern­ment and union pro­tec­tions that could be help­ful. More of­ten, though, the pres­sure is in­ter­nal and many peo­ple face anx­i­ety about what is go­ing on in the of­fice while they’re away. But, as Pro­fes­sor Leiter ex­plains, ev­ery­thing’s prob­a­bly trav­el­ling just fine. Speak­ing from Dublin (where he is at­tend­ing a con­fer­ence and not speak­ing to a jour­nal­ist while on hol­i­day), he relays the story of his morn­ing scroll through the work in­box. Many emails had been sent dur­ing the Aus­tralian work day and, since Prof Leiter was busily sleep­ing at the time, most emails were at­tended to with­out his in­put. “Ev­ery­body had al­ready done ev­ery­thing,” he says gratefully. “Yes, there are peo­ple in the world who are so crit­i­cally im­por­tant that, wher­ever they are in the world, you have al­ways got to be able to reach out and grab them, but that’s, like, seven peo­ple.” Of course, un­cer­tain hours can also be a con­se­quence of work­place flex­i­bil­ity, a mod­ern con­cept that many of us have wil­fully adopted and value. It’s a mat­ter of tak­ing the good with the bad. But for those striv­ing for a work-free break, but strug­gling, Pro­fes­sor Leiter sug­gests set­ting bound­aries around hol­i­day work time and re­cruit­ing a travel com­pan­ion to help you abide by your own rule. “Hav­ing peo­ple com­pletely cold tur­key off their con­nec­tion is a big step,” he says. “Short of that you can (set aside) a 15-minute or 20-minute ses­sion once a day, then you can look at it, then you can re­spond to what’s crit­i­cal.” As well as call­ing for reg­u­la­tory im­prove­ments, Dr Stan­ford be­lieves a more strict per­sonal ap­proach is key. “I think peo­ple should re­ject the idea that they are at the beck and call of their em­ploy­ers when­ever it’s needed,” he says. “I think peo­ple [need] to have a stronger sense that we work to live, we don’t live to work.” So, like Pro­fes­sor Leiter rec­om­mends, per­haps it’s time to re­cruit help. To en­list a trusty friend; to re­in­state the power that was once so flaw­lessly wielded by the hum­ble out of of­fice re­ply.

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