Have you ever cancelled or delayed owed time off because you felt it was the wrong time? Or got to the end of your leave year with masses of days not taken? Do you take the holiday time but then regularly check in on emails? Turns out, Guilty Vacation Syndrome is a workplace epidemic that catches us all.

A Perkbox survey revealed 66% of Brits have experienced Guilty Vacation Syndrome. Many of us are burnt out but feel guilty for even thinking about that holiday sunshine with cocktail in hand. We’re already stressed just thinking about taking that time to rest and relax. So here are my Top 4 Reasons for Guilty Vacation Syndrome and how to try and not feel guilty about them.

1. It Could Negatively Affect Future Career Promotions

There is that worry that any form of time out could stop us reaching those career goals. But if we do not take a break we will reach burnout. And the irony is that reaching burnout affects our work, which is the thing we have been trying to protect by not taking a break.

Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion, combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”  We are no good to our boss or colleagues if we break ourselves trying not to take a much needed vacation. Enjoy that holiday sunshine and come back refreshed, inspired, motivated and renewed for securing any career promotions. All positive reasons for a bit of guilt free relaxation from work.

“The breaks you take from work pay you back manifold when you return because you come back with a fresher mind and newer thinking. Some of your best ideas come when you’re on vacation.”

— Gautam Singhania, Industrialist

2. The Mountain Of Emails On Our Return

I already feeling anxious at the thought of them! But here’s the reality: Taking vacation time is good for us. It boosts productivity, overall happiness and general wellbeing. Taking a break actually creates a more motivated, less stressed environment. So whilst that mountain of emails is anxiety inducing on all levels, taking a break from the onslaught actually puts us in a stronger position both mentally and physically to tackle that workload after a reset and recharge.

These rules don’t just apply to those week long holidays. Even a day off needs boundaries setting. Set that out of office so anyone contacting knows there will be a delayed response. And try not to be tempted to check emails, because that defeats the object of enjoying the full benefits of a well deserved break.

3. The Burden On Colleagues To Pick Up The Extra Workload

We worry about the workload on our return, so it is natural to worry that we could be burdening others by taking a break or asking others to support in our absence. However the figures suggest we are all worrying about the same thing. Our colleagues believe just as much as we do that taking a break is important for our mental and physical health and will in turn positively affect our working lives.

So prepare strong handovers ahead of any pre-vacation plans. Ensure colleagues are aware of the workload and are fully up to speed with how to support whilst you are away. And create a workplace environment to offer them the same when it is their turn, which will reduce not just your own but your colleagues stress levels too.

“It is a good thing for everyone who can possibly do so to get away at least once a year for a change of scene. I do not want to get into the position of not being able to see the forest because of the thickness of the trees.”
– Franklin Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. President

4. Worrying What People Will Think

We’ve created a workplace culture where we regularly don’t take all of our contractual annual leave, meaning we now feel guilty if we do. And so we also worry about what people will think when we take that holiday entitlement. Should we be checking in to show that we haven’t entirely forgotten that our work life exists whilst we’re sipping that mojito? If we don’t, will people think we don’t care?

But we shouldn’t care. Because vacation time is also, ‘pretend we don’t have a job’ time. Life without the 9-5 routine. Enjoying long lunches with not an email in sight. Travelling and soaking up the idea that we could live like this for the rest of our lives. It’s where we can completely forget all about work.

So even though research suggests that one of the top four reasons for guilty vacation syndrome is worrying what people will think, I say, who cares?

Why We Shouldn’t Feel Guilty

Workplace stress and overworking can lead to burnout. And those feelings of exhaustion, stress, negativism and reduced productivity are just a few of the reasons to avoid reaching this stage. Taking a break will provide a better work-life balance and positively affect our overall wellbeing, counter-acting against burnout. So don’t let guilty vacation syndrome ruin your time out, feel guilty about NOT taking a break from your work life.

The Oxford Economic suggests, “Replacing an employee costs on average around £30,000 and it takes up to 28 weeks to get them up to speed.”  So our employer’s are becoming more aware of our need for rest and relaxation. Because they want motivated, productive, happy employees and importantly for them, it costs them time and money to replace us should we become so dissatisfied with our work-life balance and decreased wellbeing that we end up leaving.

“Everyone needs a break to refuel, recharge, and jump back in full throttle.”

— Helen Edwards, Author

Have you experienced guilty vacation syndrome? How did it make you feel, and what methods did you use to banish vacation guilt? Please share your comments below.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.

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