I often meet with people in my private practice that are experiencing burnout, but that cannot give themselves permission to take a vacation from their job to rest.
Sometimes they perceive they are unable to leave their desks to take vacation because the work demands on them are too high. They say they can’t step away because things will collapse around them while they are gone. They worry they will be perceived as “not committed” if they step away.
I believe all this is true. I work hard to help the person give themselves permission to take vacation anyway. I point out that if they are so vital to their department’s continuing success that they can’t step away for two or three weeks, then their company is in trouble because they are too dependent on one individual.
Read more: Work like a maniac and feel burned out?
The important thing to recognize is that the company will survive just fine without the person who perceives they can’t step away from their desk. Sure, there might be some hiccups over the short-term. I don’t deny this. But that person would be replaced in fairly short order if they were to quit or go on medical leave as a result of their exhaustion, and the company would undoubtedly carry on.
How is it that people can allow themselves to get trapped in situations where they can’t get away from their desks after putting in an honest work day? And can’t take regularly scheduled vacations?
Sometimes it’s the employer’s responsibility. Perhaps there aren’t enough employees to get everything done. Perhaps they run too lean a ship, and their employees are over-loaded and the ones to suffer.
But the employee often has something to do with the problem too. Sometimes the employee has allowed themselves to get caught up in their situation at work, even over-committed to an extreme degree because work is where they experience their successes. It feels good to be needed. And it feels awful to be home alone, without a partner, or other close relationships.
When this happens, the person tends to put more time and energy into doing what they are good at, which is namely work. And they don’t develop skills in the areas that they need to grow in, such as creating and maintaining relationships, or facing a difficult experience like a failed marriage or a traumatic childhood.
I encourage my clients to take all their allotted vacation. If they repeatedly fail to do so, we start to examine why they are failing at this. Sometimes they have built up such high expectations at work that they perceive that they can’t get away.
I like to watch my clients when they do finally get away, and in turn discover everything didn’t fall apart. Or sometimes they discover that everything did. Either way, the person has had a success, because they’ve done something different.
It’s only by doing something different that we can begin the change how we live our day-to-day lives, and invite something new in, be that a love of travel, a new hobby, or a new relationship. Change might be painful. But at least it’s gotten started, which means that the individual has a chance now of getting somewhere different and hopefully better.
Read more: How people change.
Once someone takes that first vacation, I encourage them to schedule their next vacation immediately. I recommend that they always have their next vacation booked before their current one ends. I do so because it’s easier to see when we will need our next couple of vacations, from the vantage point of the one we are currently taking.
For people who are bad at giving themselves permission to take vacation, I recommend that they pay for the next plane ticket, and block out the time on their publicly displayed calendars, months in advance. I make this recommendation because committing money and publicly announcing the vacation makes it more likely that they will go.
On a personal note, my clients might believe that I post notices that announce my next vacation on my office door for their benefit. But now you know that I do it to ensure that I take enough vacation time to feel fresh and to ensure I live a full life, too.
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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