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Melodie Gilbert

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Summer holidays: A source of stress?

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Many employees have to work significantly harder before leaving for, and returning from, their summer holiday. Melodie Gilbert outlines the measures employers can take to limit this stress.

It’s that time of year when employees’ minds begin to turn to sun-drenched beaches and time out from their everyday jobs. We all look forward to a break from work, but research has shown that the holiday season has become a miserable experience with UK workers claiming they have to put in up to an extra 50 hours work before they leave for holiday, and more when they return, in order to get everything done.
 
For many employees, jetting off on holiday can be more stressful than remaining at work – in fact the time leading up to a holiday has been quoted as one of the most stressful times of year.
 
So, why do employees feel the pressure at this time more than most? Very often we feel that we must accomplish every task outstanding before we take a break; this means that we spend many hours at work before our holidays preparing to go, and more hours in the week we get back dealing with situations which have arisen while we are away.
 
It can take days for workers to unwind once they are on holiday. Also, more and more of us are taking our work away with us on holiday, checking emails, taking phone calls and even using laptops to complete unfinished work on the beach.
 

Take a break

 
It’s also common for employees to spend the majority of the time they are away dreading their return to work and the volume of work they will be faced with. This can lead to employees not getting what they need from a much deserved annual break and therefore returning to work more stressed than they were when they left.
 
During the summer months, skeleton staffing levels can also create added stress for those who are left in the office with additional and sometimes unfamiliar workloads.
 
The implications of stress in the workplace can be significant. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) stress, depression and anxiety account for an estimated 13.5 million lost working days per year in the UK. Also, the moral and ethical considerations of exposing individuals to this level of ill health is surely a matter of concern to all businesses.
 
So, what measures can HR professionals take to limit the pressures associated with taking time off work and what advice can they offer employees to help them cope with the stress generated by holidays?
 
  • In order to reduce the pressure on staff during holiday periods, it is beneficial to make sure time off within the business is staggered and that not too many members of staff are away at the same time
  • Encourage staff to spread their holidays throughout the year, perhaps taking some of their entitlement in each quarter. This will reduce the number of staff taking time off together and also ensures that employees take frequent breaks from the workplace
  • When project deadlines are decided, always take into account holidays. Remember that projects which need to be rushed for completion before a holiday may suffer from lack of attention and those that are not completed could be left in the hands of less-experienced or qualified members of staff
  • Make it company policy to discourage staff from taking work laptops, mobile phones etc. on holiday
  • Educate your workforce on the effects of holiday stress and how they can learn to combat it

If you are jetting off on holiday this summer, here are some tips to think about before you go:

    • Be realistic: If you are asked to complete a task before your holiday and you don’t have the time to complete it before you leave, make your employers aware as soon as possible so they can find an alternative solution
    • Effective handover: Make sure you identify a suitable person to oversee your emails and requests whilst you are away. Set aside adequate time for a comprehensive handover to ensure they are aware and up to speed with everything that you have been working on
    • Delegate: Prime your colleagues to answer queries whilst you are away. This will lessen the workload on your return and they may be pleased that you show confidence in their abilities
    • Coping: In times of stress ensure you take regular breaks and make time to eat a healthy, balanced diet. This will help your body to deal with the effects of excess pressure
    • Ask for help: If you begin to feel unable to cope with your workload, seek help from your colleagues, don’t feel that you have to struggle on. And finally, if you need professional assistance for stress, don’t be afraid to ask for it
 
The HSE produces information on its website for stress at work, both for employees and employers, which can help to reduce workplace stress including information on the legal requirements for stress risk assessment.
 
 
 
Melodie Gilbert is a consultant in the occupational hygiene team at Sypol. Its new ‘steps to success’ programme can assist employers with stress management ensuring that both employers and employees are prepared for and know how to deal with workplace stress at any time of the year
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