By Margaret Steen
Vacations are meant for relaxation, but some actually cause work-related stress instead.
Some people leave the office but don't leave their work behind, making cellphone calls and sending email from the beach. Others try to do all the work they would have done during their vacation before they leave -- or find it waiting for them when they return. And some skip vacations altogether because they feel they have too much work to do.
When vacations create more stress than they relieve, this stress can spill over into other areas of life: health problems, impatience with family and friends, problems getting along with coworkers.
Experts offer six tips for taking a truly relaxing vacation from work:
Make it as easy as possible for your coworkers while you're gone. Document what you normally do, and offer to help the person who is going to fill in for you before you leave.
"You don't want to go on vacation and as soon as you're gone, people start saying, 'I can't believe they didn't do that,'" said Valerie Frederickson, founder and CEO of Valerie Frederickson & Co., a human resources executive search and consulting firm.
This tip applies especially to managers, whose vacation behavior sets the tone for the entire group. If the boss answers emails within 30 minutes even while on vacation, the workers will likely assume they're expected to as well. Instead, managers can use their vacations as opportunities to give their subordinates a chance to learn new skills by filling in for them.
Plan for Reentry
It's easy to be overwhelmed the first day back from vacation -- by email, voice mail and a parade of people waiting to talk to you. Diane Foster, executive coach and president of Diane Foster & Associates, suggests that when you book your vacation, also schedule your first few days back. Block out time to meet with your boss and anyone who works for you -- as well as time to catch up on correspondence.
"Plan for how much time you're going to need to come back in," she said.
Try not to check in while you're on vacation. That's what Frederickson does. "We don't bring computers, we don't check our email. We just don't," she said. "And we expect our employees not to."
If you're lucky enough to be able to travel abroad or relax at a Hawaiian resort while on vacation, remember that some of your colleagues may be sticking closer to home.
"Nobody on the job wants to hear that you were swimming in the Aegean Sea while they were slogging through reports," Frederickson said.
Set Goals That Work for You
Not all advice fits every situation. Some people are able to totally disconnect from work during vacations; others, due to their responsibilities or their company culture, may find it more realistic to simply limit how often they check in.