Tailor time off to stress levels

MANY who have had a stressful year will relish the prospect of a chance to rest and recuperate over the summer holidays.

But Colin Mathieson, managing director of Alpha Recruitment, says a holiday is not a universal cure for "burnout" and that some people burn out from stresses that help others thrive.

"We see examples of people across our own industry and across our clients who are clearly under great stress at work, and who are coping extremely well with it.

"In such cases, the holiday is not so much about stopping burnout but about having a planned change that adds value to their lives outside work, like spending time with children or friends, competing in events or following a hobby," he says.

"Others are clearly not coping well at all with their work stress, and often there are major stresses in their lives outside work as well."

Mathieson says work stress is more likely in a role where priorities are not clear, where restructuring is occurring and where there is not a lot of appreciation for achievement.

"Taking a holiday under such circumstances can be great for helping the person put their role into perspective," he says.

"Sometimes the holiday leads to the person deciding that the best option is not to stay with that company, due to an inability to change the factors causing stress."

While some may be looking forward to the holidays as an antidote to the morale-battering effects of a tough financial and disaster-ridden year, Mathieson doesn't think holidays generally have anything to do with morale.

"While it has been a rough year for Christchurch, not everyone has had a tough year financially, or suffered from any direct impact through what happened there or more recently in Tauranga.

"The feel-good factor from the Rugby World Cup should also be considered.

"We won the damn thing and, if morale is down after that, it's not at all clear what we could do to raise it."

In 2007, the standard holiday entitlement was increased from three weeks to four and Mathieson says this has had one major impact.

"It is harder, we think, to get rid of all the holidays each year in one lump.

"We know from our own experience that the level of holiday accrual has climbed during the past three years.

"In some cases, this may now be at the point where people risk losing part of their entitlement if they don't use some of it up."

He says a pattern has emerged, at least in his own organisation, of people taking more single days away; either for local travel or to support outside interests such as children's sports days.

He believes that people will work out the accrual problem with their employers over the next few years and levels will fall again.

One option to solve the accrual problem, and perhaps to bring in some Christmas spending money, is to forfeit part of the annual holiday entitlement for cash.

Since April, employees have been able to ask their employer to pay out in cash up to one week of their annual holiday entitlement per year.

However, many people may value holidays over money, as Mathieson has found this has not been a popular option.

"We have had no instances of this among our staff, including our 300-plus temps, and so far we haven't heard of a lot of employers where this is happening regularly."

He adds that an employer may have a policy to decline requests to cash out someone's holiday pay and this is allowed for in the regulations.

So will people be heading for the beach this summer, watching the tennis from the couch or taking the opportunity to paint the house?

"I would say, do what you like," says Mathieson.

"I personally wouldn't be that fond of a holiday taken up with completing all the chores I've put off all year - that doesn't sound like a holiday to me - however, I'm sure some people would relish the opportunity."

Mathieson offers some sage advice for returning from the Christmas break ready to launch into the new year.

"Don't spend too much, don't drink too much, get enough sleep and forgive the bad behaviour of relatives. Anything else is a plus."

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