askST Jobs: How can I overcome feelings of guilt about taking leave from work?

When you find it very difficult to disconnect from work, take a moment to reflect on your role, workload and goals. PHOTO: PEXELS

SINGAPORE – In this series, The Straits Times offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Question: I feel guilty about taking leave as I will be leaving my work behind, despite vacation leave being my entitlement. How can I overcome this guilt and have a good break from work?

Answer: First, try to identify what is causing the guilt.

You may have internalised cultural expectations that tie productivity and resilience to your self-worth and identity, said Mr Chirag Agarwal, co-founder of counselling platform Talk Your Heart Out.

“Taking leave for the purpose of taking a break from work may bring work to a standstill, and leave employees worrying that their co-workers or managers will think negatively of them.

“Some may even attribute taking leave as a personal weakness, as they feel that they are not capable enough to follow through with their tasks.”

Your guilt may also stem from worries about making your colleagues’ lives more difficult if they have to temporarily cover your duties while you are resting.

This situation is particularly common in smaller organisations that have less manpower to spread out additional work, noted Mr Agarwal.

Negativity from bosses over your choice to exercise your entitlement is another source of guilt you may relate to.

Having recognised potential root causes for your guilt, you can try to reframe your thinking on the benefits of taking leave.

For one thing, leave policies are a structured way of making sure that employees have adequate time away from work, said Ms Low Peck Kem, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute.

In fact, she said, companies often plan their staffing needs around the number of productive work days an employee is likely to have, with leeway for absences and leave.

Moreover, time away from work is needed for human beings to rejuvenate themselves so that they can function in both their personal and work lives for the long haul, she said.

“Human beings, unlike machines, cannot operate non-stop with no rest.”

Employees can also attempt to see the act of taking leave as a responsibility they fulfil for themselves, a line of thought particularly helpful in the face of any negativity over the choice to go on leave.

“Whether they are at or outside of their workplace, their well-being takes precedence over all things,” said Mr Agarwal.

Mindfulness of what lies within and outside of your control is also crucial.

Said Mr Agarwal: “When employees apply for leave and it does not sit well with their managers, it is important for them to first recognise that how another person reacts is not within their control.

“What employees can do, in this instance, is to practise clear and firm communication.”

When you find it very difficult to disconnect from work, taking a moment to reflect on your role, workload and goals could also highlight areas you are pushing yourself too hard in, Mr Agarwal said.

“Perhaps employees are not delegating enough, or perhaps they consistently worry about not being able to achieve a certain goal.

“They can then speak to their manager about their workload and ask for the additional support or time they need, such that they can unplug and be present after work hours.”

To curb the impact your going on leave has on the team, you may find it helpful to talk to your co-workers and discuss your plans to take leave early, said Mr Agarwal.

Keeping co-workers in the loop gives them time to anticipate their workload and prepare beforehand, he added.

Consider taking longer blocks of leave, wherever possible, as well.

Mr Agarwal said a longer break compels employees to tie up loose ends and hand over their work to those covering them in a more structured manner, which would help them unwind.

“A day or two off often leaves little time for proper planning, which results in employees still brooding over their responsibilities despite being away. Before they know it, they are back at work.”

Another thing that might help is to dedicate time to nurture an interest or hobby.

This could help provide some distance from work, and you may even find something new that fulfils you outside of work as well, Mr Agarwal said.

Managers can also do their part, Ms Low said, by setting a good example in scheduling and clearing leave promptly.

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