Do you suddenly get a cold or other minor illness as soon as you stop work for a holiday?
I do. In this blog I’ll look at why and what it means.
This has been a thing for me ever since I was a child. I remember clearly every school holidays I would get a cold. Without fail. I also would hardly ever get ill during school time, and don’t recall having time off at all.
But come the holidays, on came the cold.
And its been the same as an adult. I’ve been lucky enough to never feel ill enough to take time off sick, but its still a regular occurrence that when we are nearing a holiday period or just starting one that I’ll get some kind of minor illness.
It’s happened the last three foreign holidays we’ve had, and the last two UK ones, and its happened the last 5 Xmases in a row. And that’s just as far back as I can remember.
Frankly, I’m getting sick of it.
There’s some research behind the phenomenon. Its called Leisure Sickness, as reported in this BBC article. But despite the body of research it doesn’t appear widely recognised – and yet, I bloody well recognise it.
It always seems the same – I work really hard in the run up to a holiday, knowing I can wind down as soon as holidays come, and can feel quite stressed in the final week or so before the holiday.
And then holidays come and BANG…so does the cold.
The theory goes that its the turning off of adrenaline that allows the body to relax and become susceptible to minor illness, and I believe that its true.
But what else does this mean?
As a personal trainer I understand the value of adrenaline but also it’s downsides.
As an HR professional and leader I understand the impact this has on employee wellbeing.
If employees work so hard to “clear the decks” in order to have some time off that they expose themselves to burnout or minor injury, that says as much about the organisation and its ways of monitoring wellbeing and stress levels as it does about the individual approach to work.
I’m guilty of having bad habits, developed when I wasn’t as experienced or had made as many mistakes. It’s hard to change them.
But I can try to change them in others who have yet to develop them. And I try to change them in organisational cultures so that no one else gets sucked in to them.
What value are you as a spouse, parent or family member if you work too hard whilst at work and are ill for half the time you’re not at work?
There’s got to be a middle ground.
Running my own business I get the freedom to work less when I want to and more when I want to. It means I can sometimes (note, sometimes) manage the peaks and troughs of work and holidays better than I used to be able to.
I get to relax without it being an all or nothing thing. Relaxation is massively important, but the act of relaxation shouldn’t be a shock to the system. It shouldn’t bring the onset of minor illness.
Otherwise, when we eventually retire we are going to have one hell of a shock.
Now I’m not advocating working when you’re on leave like some do, or operating on wind down when you’re at work like some do.
But there must be ways we can help people to relax more as they approach a period when they need to relax, so that they can actually enjoy being away from work and not be ill for the duration.
We don’t want people coming back from leave even more tired and stressed then when they went.
Within organisations, we can surely help people to learn how to relax at work – and who knows, this may even unlock some creativity and engagement.
As a PT and HR professional, I’ve got a few ideas about how – but what do YOU think?
Till next time…
Ps in other news, we’ve had a great Xmas (my minor illness aside) and it was great to get all four of my children under one roof for 24 hours on Xmas Eve / Day, for the very first but hopefully not last time.