Travel news and advice

Are you wasting precious holiday time? How to switch off from work while away and make the most of your next break

From visiting new places to setting ground rules with your boss before you leave, there are plenty of ways for Hongkongers to get away from their busy working lives and focus on re-energising when on holiday

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 8:19am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 8:19am

Holidays are a time for relaxing, re-energising and switching off from your busy working life. Does that sound like your last holiday? Or did you completely fail to disconnect and spend most the time thinking about the pile-up of work you would be returning to?

Hongkongers’ minds are wired to work on holidays and they just aren’t getting away for long enough to switch off, according to a recent global study by British Airways. Of the 2,001 people surveyed from Hong Kong, almost two-thirds said that they felt like they had not properly disconnected from work after coming back from a holiday, leaving them more stressed than those in India, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

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And not only do Hongkongers feel they are too busy to take time off work, but 12 per cent feel guilty for using up all of their holiday allowance. So it’s no surprise that the same proportion left more than six days of annual holiday allowance unused by the end of last year.

The root of the problem is the working culture in Hong Kong, which is both outdated and self-defeating, according to Judy Xu, a life coach at the Balance Health clinic in Hong Kong. “Only when companies are human-centric can people be relaxed enough to be creative and innovative, the keys to success in the modern business world,” she says.

Xu trains executives on why they should prioritise their employees’ work-life balance and health. “Most leaders now understand that conceptually, but it’s just so new and so different from the normal Asian hard-working culture, so it will take time to make the change,” she says.

The key to having a relaxing holiday is to make sure ground rules are in place beforehand. Xu says there should be a discussion between employer and employee about both what is expected and what is good for the employee, and agreement should be sought. “It’s OK to check emails while on holiday if there’s a business need, but just be conscious of your choice,” Xu says.

However, failing to de-stress while on holiday can be just as much the fault of an individual’s addiction to their devices and the instant gratification they receive from people responding to messages. “We’re now all 24/7 because of mobile messaging and emails, so people are never fully switched off from work,” Xu says. “Schedule a few time slots to check such things, so you’re not constantly disrupted by them.”

Where you go on holiday can also make a difference. “I found travelling to a new destination helpful in getting myself more mindful and present during holidays,” says Noella Ferns, executive vice-president for Greater China and Philippines at British Airways. “Everything around you is new, and that sparks your adventurous spirit to focus on the trip.”

Ferns is referring to the part of the British Airways study that found that a high proportion of Hong Kong people often revisit destinations. Almost two-thirds of Hong Kong respondents said they have returned to the same holiday destination between one and five times, while 20 per cent have gone back between six and 10 times.

I suggest [clients] … take a long two-week holiday every year to really let themselves unwind
Judy Xu

And though Hong Kong airport is one of the world’s major aviation hubs, with over 100 airlines flying to over 220 locations worldwide, 18 per cent of respondents did not visit a new country last year.

Going off-grid by visiting a remote location where there is no Wi-fi or mobile reception is another way of switching off from work. If that sounds too extreme, another option is to plan the sort of holiday that will encourage plenty of quiet rest, such as a wellness retreat, yoga holiday or spa break.

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With Hong Kong regarded as one of the hardest-working places in the world, a long break can seem like an indulgence for most people – over half of Hongkongers said their holidays last year lasted just five to nine days on average. Xu, however, recommends we make the time for it.

“I suggest to my clients that they should consciously take a long two-week holiday every year to really let themselves unwind,” she says.