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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 5, 2014 4 years ago

The decision to unplug on vacation

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Some executives find that staying in touch while they're away helps them manage the stress of taking time off. No matter your approach, it's important that you make a deliberate choice about work during vacation.
by: Denise Federer Bottom-line Behavior

When is the last time you took a vacation or left work for the weekend and did not check your emails or call in to your office? Are you able to completely unplug from your work when you leave or does that create too much anxiety for you? With all the talk in the past decade of the importance of creating work/life balance, is it possible that actually taking a total break from work can cause more stress for someone in a leadership role?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal states that most CEOs loathe vacation. In fact, when surveyed many leaders felt that it was too stressful to not be available. These individuals felt either they needed to be in control of what was happening when they were gone or they were concerned about the perception that they were not fully committed if they totally unplugged from work. Yet other leaders not only were able to disconnect, but felt it was vital to their ability to get clarity and make good decisions.

It appears that regardless of leaders' decisions of how to handle their technology approach to vacation, the most important aspect was not what they decided to do, but rather feeling empowered by their choice. Most of us know how essential it is to your physical and emotional well-being to take time to recharge your body and mind. However everyone has a different interpretation of what creates stress for them.

The key to finding your own unique work/life balance and stress management strategy is to make a deliberate, informed decision of how you want to spend your time off and not be a victim of circumstances or an irrational belief system. However, to do that you need to be sure that your internal messages, perceptions of how others see you and your ability to prioritize situations are accurate. There are three essential steps in developing an effective technology stress management approach: assess, modify and decide.

Accurately assess your work environment
The first step in creating your individualized technology approach to your vacation or time out of the office is accurately assessing the work environment and priorities you are leaving behind. You need to be sure that you are aware of any potential issues that might arise in your absence and that you are available if something truly urgent happens.

Once you have a realistic understanding that there are no critical work events pending, you need to determine how available you want to be while on vacation. If you want to decrease the frequency of your interactions, but feel uncomfortable with that decision the next step is to you explore how rational your belief system is about your absence.

Modify your belief system
The most important behavioral principle to keep in mind when deciding how to create a balance in your own life is that everyone's perception is their reality. In other words, if you are worried about something and perceive a situation as stressful, then it is, regardless of how others may interpret the same set of objective facts. However, one of the most typical responses that we have to feeling stressed or out of control is to engage in irrational thinking.

Your thoughts can become exaggerated and unrealistic about potential negative consequences that will happen if you are not in regular contact with board members, clients or direct reports during your absence. It is important to realize that it is what we tell ourselves about a situation that determines our response to it. Therefore, to manage our anxiety we need to modify what we tell ourselves about the situation. For example instead of saying, “Everything will fall apart if I am not in constant contact with work” you might try shifting your thinking to “I will feel more relaxed if I check in twice a day for updates on pending projects.” The goal is to adjust your thinking and behavior so you can manage your concerns while still enjoying your time off with family and friends.

Decide to decide
Regardless of whether you believe that everything will be fine in your absence and can be handled when you return or that by reading emails while you are gone thatwill make the transition back to work more manageable, the key to being less stressed is deciding beforehand what you want to do about your communications with the office. When we take control of our decisions and do not feel like a “victim” it can transform the entire situation into a positive experience.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]

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