Ask Sophaya: How Can I Stop Feeling Guilty About Taking Time Off?

Dear Sophaya,

I’ve been a remote worker for a little over a year now. I just received my first performance evaluation and did really well on it–but one piece of feedback my boss gave me during the review really stuck out to me: He suggested that I make more effort to take time off from work. I couldn’t believe my ears. Never did a boss ever suggest to me that I should be taking more breaks or a few days off here and there to rest and recuperate. I know that I work really hard, but I think it’s just that I feel really guilty taking time off when I already get to work from home — or wherever else my heart pleases. I have two questions. First, is my boss upset with me that I’m not taking time off? Everything else that he said seemed so positive! Second, how can I move past feeling guilty for taking time to myself and actually start doing it?

Remote Workaholic

Dear Remote Workaholic,

Congratulations on an excellent performance evaluation and a strong first year at your company! It can be so difficult to feel like you’ve established an in-office presence when you work remotely, but it sounds like you’re doing a great job and your boss has taken notice of your hard work and efforts. Well done. 

First and foremost, let me relieve some of your stress: Your boss is not upset with you for not taking time off. Quite the contrary. It actually sounds like he sees how hard you are working and appreciates the quality of your work; what’s more, he recognizes your availability and clearly sees you as a dependable employee. 

It is easy to think of performance evaluations as looming threats to your employment, or opportunities for your manager to let the proverbial “other shoe drop”–but if your boss is doing their job correctly, that should never be the case. In fact, performance evaluations as a whole are designed with an eye toward your professional growth over the long term. That means they provide your boss an opportunity to consider you as an employee holistically, think through strategies that could help enhance your performance and set you on a strong path that sets you up for growth and success, and share those strategies with you. So I don’t think your boss is angry that you’re not taking time off–but I do think he sees the value in you managing your time in a way that enables you to do that with confidence. 

You mention feeling guilty about taking time off–and you’re definitely not the only one. In fact, according to research conducted by U.K.-based Kimble Applications and covered in Forbes, that was nearly half of Americans left vacation days on the table last year, citing reasons such as anxiety surrounding current projects and deadlines or the amount of work they’d return to, employer disapproval, difficulty of fully unplugging from the workplace (or expectations of being “on call” while away), and fear that vacationing would be a setback from career growth or advancement. 

Fortunately for you, we can eliminate one of these anxieties (employer disapproval) from your repertoire, because we know without a doubt that your manager fully supports you taking time off. So now, the question becomes: What’s the best way for you to think about taking time away that allows you to fully enjoy it with minimal anxiety?

No, Really–You Need a Vacation

First, let’s look at the benefits of taking a break. According to Business Insider, several studies have identified tangible health benefits of vacationing and taking breaks, some of which can impact the quality and length of your life. “Researchers who followed a group of 749 women from Massachusetts for two decades found that those who went on vacation less than once every six years were nearly eight times more likely to develop heart problems than women who vacationed twice a year.” What’s more, “Another study…revealed that [women] who vacationed once every two years or less were more likely to be depressed and unhappy with their marriage than those who vacationed twice a year or more.”

In addition, when you’re stressed and burnt out, your brain is less likely to be functioning at 100%–meaning that no matter how devoted you are as an employee, you won’t be able to keep doing your best work day in and day out. Your brain needs permission to shut off and recharge. 

If paid time off is a benefit that comes with your remote job, that’s just another reason to breathe a little easier when you think about taking time off. By opting out of taking time off, you’re essentially turning down free money the company is giving you as a benefit for working there. 

Mitigate Vacation Anxiety with Good Coverage Plans

There will never be an easy time to take a vacation at work. There’s always going to be a big project in the works, or something you’ll owe to someone that’ll need to be worked around your schedule. But one great way to mitigate some of the anxiety and unpredictability that comes with taking time off is to plan a vacation that’s a bit far into the future–think two months or so.

Once you have your manager’s approval and you’ve put the dates into your calendar (or followed company protocol so your colleagues are aware), you can do some advance planning to frontload your work as best as possible and plan contingencies for while you’re away. Use this time to ensure you have coverage plans in place for while you’re gone. Work with your colleagues to ensure everyone agrees upon the coverage plans you’ve developed Then, the day before your last day in the office, pull together your coverage plans, share them with everyone involved and with your boss, and thank everyone in advance for their support. In this way, you give everyone time to ask any last-minute questions (avoiding any of those fears surrounding emergency text messages while you’re resting), and you know you’ve supplied everyone with so much information and detail that it’s obvious you’re not neglecting your role in any way, shape or form. 

It’ll always be a little nerve-wracking to take time to yourself–but in order for you to be your healthiest, most productive self, it’s something you really must prioritize. And in a way, it’s amazing that you have your boss’s support in ensuring you put self-care at the top of your to-do list. Take a deep breath: You’re doing everything right, and your manager is not upset! He’s just looking out for you, and he wants you to do the same. With that in mind, it’s time to start planning your next getaway!