How to Power Down During the Holiday Break

Many professionals are pretty bad at taking time off. Here’s how to make the most of a few days away from work.

It’s time for the holidays—and the annual struggle of many workers to take days off.

A survey by the communication platform Slack found that six in ten workers don’t turn off their notifications during the holidays. Experts say that leaders’ most common mistake is to use the holidays as a time to catch up, rather than rest... which means they return in January anxious, tired, and likely still not caught up. This is especially common among leaders who don’t book a formal vacation—often because they know they’ll be working—or disconnect. This conflating of vacation with recuperation is endemic.

“Powering down is critical, but a seven-day cruise is not,” says supply-chain expert Seth Steinberg, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. We asked our consultants for guidance on how to get rest over the holidays, especially when work responsibilities beckon.

If you must work, prioritize.

Experts advise thoughtfully determining what work you absolutely must do during the holidays, and putting the remainder on the back burner. (For example, if you’re involved in a deal, you’re usually required to maintain your involvement with it until it closes.) But late December and January are very busy for companies whose fiscal years are ending, as well as for departments occupied with calculating annual assessments and bonus payments. “It can lead to people working right through the holidays, and they really need to prioritize,” says HR expert Ron Porter, senior client partner at Korn Ferry.

Schedule it.

To avoid your job taking over your holidays, experts advise coming up with your own personal holiday work schedule (such as two hours per day, from 7 AM to 9 AM). “Stick to the plan unless something really significant changes—otherwise disconnect,” says Porter.

Commit to family time.

For many corporate workers, calendaring is a way of life that naturally includes scheduling family time: Once an event or outing is on the calendar, it’s easier to commit to it. “Nobody is going to protect your family time if you don’t carve it out for yourself,” says Steinberg.

Don’t overeat or overdrink.

“Do the things your mother would—correctly—advise,” says business psychologist James Bywater, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. Time off work won’t help if you’re gorging on alcohol and saturated fats and not adequately sleeping or exercising.

Focus on the positives.

A 2022 meta-analysis of positive psychology interventions found that there are psychological benefits to paying attention to the good things in life. Some of the ways you can do this include: feeling gratitude toward yourself and others; focusing on your own strengths and those of the people around you; and considering how those strengths can be used moving forward. Recalling the positives of 2023 is also helpful. “Think about the funny moments, as well as the upcoming beacons of hope,” says Bywater. 

And if all else fails, there’s always the longstanding holiday strategy of seasoned leaders everywhere: “Just turn it off and deal with the consequences when you return,” says Alina Polonskaia, global leader in the DE&I Consulting practice at Korn Ferry. 


For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.