How to (really) switch off from work this summer: An essential guide for working parents

HR expert Alan Price has some advice on prepping for your holiday so you don’t come back to an email mountain.


For many working parents, planning family holidays can be a stressful time. From endless planning both on the home front and at work to working hard to make sure every detail is perfect for our loved ones. Sometimes, we’re left wondering, when exactly does the ‘holiday’ start?

While it’s undeniably great to swap the spreadsheets for sandcastles, it can be hard to remember to take a full break from your emails and responsibilities. And especially hard not to not check-in every now and then…

Family holidays should not just be business as usual with added sand and palm trees. Nor should they be so stressful before and on the trip that we forget why we’re even there. They should be a time of relaxation, rejuvenation and quality time with what matters most. So, what exactly is the secret to a blissful family holiday?

Plan early

Start by planning early – earlier than you think is necessary. Your handover notes should not read like a student who didn’t start revising ‘til three minutes before the exam. They should be thorough so that your holiday goes uninterrupted by questions from your team.

Think your plan through from the perspective of all your colleagues, clients and managers; covering every base that could possibly need to be covered.

You couldn’t focus at work if you were worried you’d left your oven on at home, and the same can be said for going away. Organise yourself in such a way that you can leave confident that things are covered. Otherwise, you risk spending most of your hard-earned annual leave away being interrupted by calls or emails from your team. With research showing proper holidaymaking improves your mental health, energy
levels and productivity at work
, isn’t it better for everyone in the long term anyway?

Set boundaries

Flexible working schedules have, unfortunately, blurred the lines between our work and personal life. Ideally, you should switch off entirely from work, as failing to do so can have negative impacts on your mental and physical health. If you must be available, set specific times when you will check emails or messages, so you’re not always on call. This allows you to be fully present during family time.

You should also avoid taking on additional work before leaving, making sure everything is squared away before jetting off can help you relax during your well-earned family holiday.

Put the phone down, gently…

Firmly put your devices on do not disturb, or ideally, limit your technology use altogether. As long as you’ve prepared well, there should be no reason for anyone from work to contact you. For both you and your family, holidays are best used for relaxation, exploration and a bit of cultural enrichment.

In other words, disconnect to connect. If we end up with our heads in technology as per usual, can we really say we’ve tried to make the most of the holiday experience?

Involve the whole family

One of the biggest reasons working parents shudder even at the mention of a “family holiday” is the stress of planning one. You’re expected to come home from a long day of work and continue with your regular parental responsibilities, but now comes the added stress of planning and executing a fun family holiday for everyone – it can be overwhelming, to say the least.

A brilliant way to alleviate some of this stress is to involve the whole family. Ask your partner and children what they’d like to do; have them bring some ideas to the table. In an age where many kids have a portable portal to the internet in their pockets, there really is no excuse for them not to help you brainstorm ideas to help make it a family holiday that everyone can enjoy.

Automate what you can

One of the biggest challenges to turning off, at least for me, is the prospect of coming home to a pile of paperwork and emails so high that they’re visible from the plane you’re flying back on.

My advice is to automate whatever you can. If your role allows you to, use tools and digital systems to schedule reports, emails or other routine communications. Set out of office replies that include dates of your absence and alternative contact info for emergencies only. That way, you can scale that paperwork mountain a lot quicker on your return.

Final thoughts

When the time comes to swap your work shoes for flip flops, remember to set boundaries, communicate with your team, automate where possible and delegate tasks. And if work calls, keep it short and sweet.

On the home front, involve the whole family in the planning process, and limit your technology usage where possible.

Finally, take a deep breath, and try to enjoy it.

Making good use of your holiday isn’t selfish, nor is it a bad thing – employees who fully rest up on their annual leave come back more productive, less likely to take sick leave, more creative and report better wellbeing.

So, remember that next time you find yourself stressing about work on holiday – you’re not just failing to enjoy your time off, you’re actually risking being less productive in the future!

*Alan Price is CEO at BrightHR and father to two young boys. He writes for on parental leave.

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