The only conversations I’ve had with other parents since the boys went back to school involve the words “what did you do on your holidays?” It’s a kind of unwritten rule that the first time you see someone in September, you have to ask about holidays. And the answer almost inevitably includes the phrase, “it feels a lifetime ago!”
The answers to the holiday question were varied: some people travelled to far-flung islands and learnt to surf, others went camping down the road. Accommodation included tents, villas, hotels, family’s homes, or just staying at home. Activities included sailing, running, bike-riding or simply collapsing on a sun lounger for a week.
The consistent theme? People weren’t in the ‘normal’ routine of school run and work commute – they were spending time with family or friends, to eat and drink, to exercise or sit by a pool for a week.
Taking a break
Breaking out of routine and enjoying a week or so of different life is an opportunity to recharge one’s own batteries, to spend time reconnecting with children, partner or friends, to enjoy new foods, to gain vitamin D from the sun and relax. Whilst some people use holidays to enhance physical health through exercise, others spend it eating and drinking too much, and lying on a beach. However, in all cases, there are benefits to mental health and wellbeing, and to relationships – all of which can reduce stress.
Holidays are called a ‘break’ for a reason – they are a break from routine, from day to day stresses and pressures, from ‘normal life’. There are a number of studies showing the undoubted benefits of taking holidays, and the positive consequences of having time out. It’s been repeated many times but no one is going to wish they spent more time in the office when they’re lying on their deathbed… the memories people make on holiday can bolster them in bad times and be some of the happiest memories for children as they spend quality time with their parents.
Returning to reality
The return to ‘reality’ can hurt: financially, holidays can take a whack out of a monthly budget. People’s moods can darken along with the mornings; Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the name given to the mild depression that affects a large number of people as the days close in, and there’s a lack of natural sunlight. The return to work or school can bring back the same stressors, be it work-related stress, a continual stream of emails and phone calls or challenges of a commute or life/ work balance. The challenge is how to help people build on the benefits of their holiday, and as HR professionals, we need to look at what companies can do to help.
Coming back from holiday in September reminds most people of the start of a new school year – regardless of whether or not they have children themselves. Like January, it gives people an opportunity to start anew, to do things differently, to set resolutions. Companies can support through introducing a range of initiatives to take care of their employee’s health.
Supporting employees when they return to work
Health is wider than physical health, it includes mental health and wellbeing, nutrition and weight, smoking, exercise and financial health. We are complex beings and we need to ensure we’re looking after all of the aspects which go to ensuring we are happy and healthy.
A well-being strategy should be at the heart of any company’s people strategy, and ensuring a focus on all aspects of health is important. Running financial health workshops where employees can review budgets and how they balance spending and savings can be a support particularly with Christmas looming.
Supporting flexible working, whether it’s allowing some ‘work from home’, or flexible start and end dates can be of huge benefit to a number of people. If employees have long commutes, or childcare responsibilities, offering some flexibility can reduce the significant stress of trying to juggle and balance life alongside work.
Provide support with nutrition – look at what you offer in your canteen or in vending machines. Instead of cake Friday, consider Fruit Friday – or at least a mix of the two. Combine this with suggestions of increasing exercise and movement; sponsor Pilates or yoga in the office or encourage walks at lunchtime. Getting people to break from their desks is important for mental health, to reduce stress and anxiety.
Focusing on mental health by training Mental Health First Aiders and encouraging a dialogue through regular updates and discussions on improving mental health. Consider establishing a relationship with an Occupational Health provider or private GP practise who can design unique interventions on a holistic or individual level.
Encourage managers to acknowledge their team members, whether it’s a ‘thank you’ or a postcard, or a bottle of something bubbly – it’s proven that being recognised at work has a significant impact on motivation.
Finally, have some fun. Whether it’s a social, a ‘bake and bring’, fancy dress for Halloween, or a team lunch – why not suggest a corporate or team level event to help carry some of the summer laughter into Autumn.