Holiday Fears

It’s the middle of summer – time for that vacation, right? But are you resisting taking a holiday? Sounds strange, but some people do.

Maybe they feel too busy or find vacations boring. Maybe they don’t trust their work replacement to do their job as well as they do. All valid reasons.

But dig deeply enough and the basic reason for putting off holidays is plain old fear, despite the benefits such as work-life balance, rejuvenation, perspective and connection with family that “downtime” offers.

So why do some fear holidays?

There are five reasons staff may fear going away:

1. The Global Recession
This is a major motivation to question whether you should go on vacation. It is common right now for employees to feel the need to continually prove their worth lest they find they don’t have a job to come back to. Constantly striving to prove one’s value at work can lead to burn out, making a holiday necessary, yet these employees fear relinquishing their position and returning from holidays to joblessness.

Others can ill-afford time away during hard economic times and experience having to work to make ends meet. Holidays are an expense they can not afford and working is the best option at this time for some.

2. Fear of Being Bored
Some employees wonder what they will do with the free time a holiday gives. Work has become central in their lives. Imagining a time without the structure it provides can be daunting. When work is everything and one has not nurtured other interests or hobbies, downtime can be scary. Even when imagining the kind of holiday to take these folks can be stymied because they really don’t know what they like to do. Having spent so much time on the job, they have a paucity of sources of amusement to draw from. Trying to find out what they may be interested in is key and encouraging these employees to take a little time off may be the best way to wean people away from a dependence on work for their identity and purpose in life.

3. Fear of Family Time
If the family environment is fraught with conflict, tension or stress, work often becomes a legitimate way to avoid what is wrong at home. Hence, the prospect of spending time with the family without an escape route, can feel risky. At the same time, holidays may be a source of dread because obligatory visits to relatives are part of the holiday package or receiving guests becomes a job during the vacation period. Being taxed by visitors, having strained family holidays or fearing losing work as an excuse for one’s absence at family gatherings, can cause some staff to prefer to stay at work.

4. Fear of Not Being Important
Some staff derive their identity as being special, indispensible and needed from work. When this is the case, the idea of not being there is frightening. They fear that being away might mean they aren’t important. That’s because they tend to feel wanted when the phone rings, they feel special when in high demand and enjoy the prestige of people seeking them for answers. If all this stops (even for a little while) an emptiness sets in. These employees can feel bereft and lost. Rather than avoid taking a break these folks need to take time off to begin to analyze how work has become a way to bolster flagging self worth.

5. Fear of Work Not Getting Done
Many people feel that by taking holidays, their project won’t progress, that the work won’t be completed and momentum won’t be maintained. They may call into work repeatedly, check their e-mails while away and stress about what’s going on at the office. For leaders, this is fear suggests that when they are away, staff may make less effort. This signals the need to look at one’s leadership style. Are you breeding dependence on you – people can only move forward if they consult or get permission from the boss? Or, are people lacking ownership of the job and as a result aren’t self motivated? A hard look at your leadership style or the department culture may be in order.

Being afraid of going on vacation may sound counter-intuitive but it can be a real concern for those whose identities center around work, who have tensions at home or who are currently challenged by hard economic times. Yet, it is crucial to take time for oneself and finding a way to take a break is important no matter what. Even if it’s a few days to relax, the break is worth it.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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