Too many Aussies have a fear of taking leave | OPINION

RELUCTANCE: Many people fear their colleagues will feel frustrated at covering the extra work while they are on holidays.
RELUCTANCE: Many people fear their colleagues will feel frustrated at covering the extra work while they are on holidays.

As I reflected on “the month that was” on Friday evening, I suddenly realised that I’d missed a fairly important milestone.

While I was busy working with some incredible people – undertaking some professional development around business branding and marketing and farewelling my intern as she started a new (paid) job – I had completely overlooked the fact that August this year marked my 10-year anniversary of stepping out into the world of business and taking the plunge into self-employment as a career practitioner.

Ten. Whole. Years. In many ways it feels like only yesterday that I embarked on this roller coaster ride.

And yet, it somehow feels like I’ve been doing this since the dawn of time.  

I consider myself to be an accidental entrepreneur, as this path wasn’t one I’d dreamed of growing up.

I can’t claim to have been selling lemonade in a makeshift stand on the nature strip outside my house.

I can’t say that I started a friendship bracelet business, plaiting my way through my teens as a budding business leader.

I can’t even say that I considered the possibility of building a business of my own through my “self-discovery” years at university.

I sort of fell into my business. Much like one falls in love, I think. I wasn’t looking for it, but when I found it, it well and truly swept me off my feet.

It all started on a dark and stormy night … OK, well, I can’t vouch for the stormy factor, but it was definitely after hours (after my boss had gone home) when I was working in recruitment that I started bringing clients back into the office to show them how to do their resume, as the documents that crossed my desk were never going to get them anywhere.

One of them was actually handwritten chicken scratch on a piece of foolscap paper that looked like it had come from 1986. 

When I went on maternity leave, it was a natural progression to begin writing resumes to keep my hand in the industry while changing nappies and playing peekaboo with my baby boy.

This was never meant to be a permanent thing. It was only ever a stop-gap, an exercise in keeping my braincells functioning, but I found that my client base was growing.

And when we moved back to my home town, Albury, I completed a Graduate Diploma in Careers Education and Development, became a fully qualified careers practitioner and the rest, as they say is history. It was perhaps the best “accident” of my life.

However, as I sat with a glass of wine on Friday night, contemplating the career path I’d paved for myself, it occurred to me that the only thing I really missed about employment (apart from the Friday pub lunches!) was the security of knowing when I’d be paid and knowing I could step away without financial sacrifice.

So, I went and did some research to find out how secure employment really is in this day and age.

I discovered that one in four Australians are casual, so 25 per cent of the workforce have no paid leave entitlements.

I found out that out of the 75 per cent remaining, 11 per cent took no annual leave at all.

While not a clinical diagnosis, fear of taking annual leave is actually a thing for us.

A recent survey by the Australian Psychological Society tells us that 35 per cent of Australians are reporting significant stress levels (no kidding).

As a nation, we feel nervous about stepping away from our jobs for a number of reasons.

Some of us worry that our absence will highlight our expendability.

Others worry that their colleagues will feel frustrated at covering the extra work and office relationships will suffer.

And then there are those of us that stress about the build up of work that will accrue in anticipation of our return.

A recent survey by the Australian Psychological Society tells us that 35 per cent of Australians are reporting significant stress levels (no kidding).

The irony, of course, being that stress decreases productivity and performance and increases susceptibility to illness, thus increasing the number of sick days taken. Not to mention the risk to our reputation of poor performance. 

I can’t help but feel that maybe job security is an illusion. At the very least, I’m unlikely to fire myself for taking a sickie!

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer, counsellor and coach at impressability.com.au