Holiday. As a concept it is all things considered pretty fantastic. You get to turn your life off for a certain period of time, go somewhere new and interesting and theoretically come back relaxed and refreshed and buzzing with ideas. Generally speaking, unless some disaster such as illness or terrorist strike occurs, this is the way it all works out.
Nonetheless I dread holidays. Not so much for what goes on during them, but for the fact that the process of pausing your existing life and then picking up the threads afterwards can be a source of so much stress and anxiety that you find yourself wondering if it really was worth the effort in the first place. This is particularly true if you are the kind of person who despite all advice to the contrary actually gives a damn about their job and is dedicated enough to want it all to run smoothly in your absence. I’ve worked out in the past that there are five stages holiday of anxiety that you go through before, during and immediately after your break from the normal routine.
1) Preparation Anxiety
The need to make sure you leave everything in a tidy state, with all current projects either finished, in a position to be suspended for a week or so, or at the very least documented to the extent that whoever has been tasked with covering for your absence will be able to deal with anything that might crop up while you are away. Some may find this rather therapeutic, and actually a good excuse to clear up many loose ends that have been dangling for a while, waiting for you to find the right moment to wrap it all up. In contrast I generally find this completely ruins the final Friday at work, the clock ticking away until the end of the day suddenly acting like a giant hanging guillotine, marking an arbitrary deadline for a job which under normal circumstances you would be happy to leave until Monday to view things with fresh eyes. I remember once in a previous life electing to set up a new printer server at 3.30pm on my final afternoon, simply because it was a job that needed doing and if it wasn’t done then, the department in question would have to wait another week for their new machine to go online. Of course the damn thing wouldn’t configure properly and at 6pm when everyone else had vanished to the pub I was still wrestling with it and frantically swapping out similar units from other devices elsewhere in the building to track down the problem. I ended up writing my final holiday notes to brief my colleagues on the state of other matters at 7.30pm. Two hours into my holiday in theory.
2) Can’t Let Go Anxiety
A common affliction in this day and age of mass communication and webmail in particular. We’ve all been there surely. Despite briefing everyone fully about your absence, and setting up all the usual out of office notifications on email, you just can’t resist the temptation to log on to your office webmail sometime during the Monday afternoon, just to see what is going on and if any disasters have cropped up in the few short hours you’ve not been around to deal with them. Then you compound it by seeing an email exchange about a particular issue and succumb to the temptation to drop a response in, suggesting a way to deal with the matter in question. Nothing says “paranoid control freak” more than sending work emails at the start of your holiday. Your only escape is a relaxed relationship with the colleagues who can feel free to send you dogs abuse for this lapse in personal standards, thus ensuring that you stop logging on from that moment on.
3) Forgot You Were Away Anxiety
Once the initial hurdles have been overcome, your holiday can truly begin. You settle down into a state of blissful unawareness, putting all thoughts of work out of your mind and unable even to comprehend checking back in at the office. Sadly such holidays have been few and far between as far as I am concerned, the peace of most of the breaks of my recent working life having been rudely shattered by apparently urgent out of hours telephone calls from colleagues whose problem has caused them to momentarily forget the email that was circulated advising them of my absence for the week. Then there was the time many years ago when an apparently senior manager rang to request some urgent onsite work, apparently not remotely dissuaded by the suspiciously foreign sounding ringing tone he received when dialling my number. One other side effect of this advanced state of relaxation is the fact that your imaginative and inspirational faculties suddenly go into overdrive and you are blessed with new ideas for your life, your work and your career. All at precisely the time when you are not in a position to do anything about it. Here you have a choice, either discard the ideas and consign them to the dustbin of history forever, or keep them at the front of your mind, thus ruining any chance you had of relaxing and getting away from it all in the first place.
4) Pre-return Anxiety
I find this state tends to kick in either during the journey back home or if not then during the course of the Sunday evening prior to a Monday return to the office. It is rooted in the deep, dark fear that you are about to return to the office and be plunged headlong into a crisis that has arisen as a result of your absence. I’ve found in the past that these problems are as a direct result of you not being around to put out the spark before it blew up into a gigantic fire (thus compounding the guilt you felt by going away) or ones that are caused by your underlings trying to solve something in your absence and going about it in completely the wrong way and causing more problems than they solve. Perversely it is the fear of such things being ready to confront you that actually dissuades you from logging on the moment you return home. If there is such a problem, then you really don’t want the final few hours of your break spoiled by the knowledge of what is awaiting you. Hence you sit on your hands and avoid any and all contact with work for as long as possible, even if the agony of not knowing what to expect is if anything worse than seeing what disasters unfolded in your absence.
5) Full mailbox anxiety
My least favourite part of a holiday. Not so much the being back home and back at work part of it, I love many aspects of my job after all. No, it is the fact that you know that your first two hours (at least) will be taken up with trying to catch up on the status of everything before you can even begin to start thinking about implementing all the great ideas that came to mind during stage 3 above. This issue normally manifests itself in the shape of an email inbox containing roughly 652 unread items. Whilst a full 90% of these will be little more than newsletters or internal chit-chat and can be deleted at speed, deep down you know that you are going to have to spend a little time glancing over each one just in case they contain a nugget of information that is going to become useful later. The fear that you might accidentally delete something that required your personal attention means the whole process takes much longer than it should. Only then can you sit back, go make a cup of tea and start fielding the inevitable flood of cheery “oh hello, how was your holiday?” greetings from people who patently have no interest in where you went or how you were, but feel they have to make this kind of small talk anyway.
So that is why holidays bother me. Nice to have them and kind of essential to one’s personal well-being but generally a greater source of stress than anything else that goes on in your normal day to day life. Maybe I’m prejudiced as holidays in the world of radio are a totally different beast to anything else. For a start, unlike in a normal office where your role and your responsibilities can for the most part be put on hiatus until your return, in the world of live broadcast radio every job has to be done by somebody at the usual time. For those people not on holiday it often means extra work to cover for the absentee. Every time I have to go into work on a Sunday, or work late on a day when I’d normally leave the building at five, I have to explain to a frustrated other half that all I’m doing is covering for the chap who is away – somebody has to do it. After a while you start to resent the people who have swanned off for a break, leaving you to pick up the pieces in their absence. Of course nobody is on holiday all the time, but when you are in a large enough office then the law of averages dictates that at least one person will be on a break or off ill on any random day you care to choose.
The natural paranoia that everyone working in the media has about their status and position means that the very act of going away and leaving your job in the hands of someone else is a nervous one. Deep down you hate the part of you that wants them to be shit. It’s true – you want the guy covering for you to be so incompetent, so inept, that your next appearance through the doors will be greeted like the second coming and so you can spend the next month or so basking in the (totally fictional) belief that you are utterly indispensible. By the same token, all broadcasters have the fear that they will go away and that the boss will discover that they are totally replaceable. It has never happened to anyone I know, but I have heard many tales of woe recounted by others. One famous example cited by a colleague was the case of a man who was the “early breakfast” presenter who went away on a two week break. During this period, the radio station was purchased by new owners who swiftly installed their own management on the operation and who in short order rearranged the schedule. Mr Early Breakfast returned from his holidays to find that his show simply no longer existed and his break from the office very nearly turned into a permanent one.
I’ve just come back from a week away. I only had to delete 500 emails, I still have a programme of my own and although the one that took place in my absence was a success, most people appear glad I’m going to be back at the helm this weekend. Stress over, and by my reckoning I can make it until July before doing it all again.