ER0H95 Businessman wearing a white shirt and green tie working on his laptop. Cloud computing on screen
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There are few things more dispiriting than being stuck at work in August and receiving yet another out-of-office message that says the person is “on annual leave”. We all know that means “sipping a piña colada by the swimming pool”, but management-speak means people no longer seem able to admit they are simply “on holiday”.

If you are unlucky enough to be left holding the fort, how do you cope — not only with the simmering resentment that your boss is able to take time off in August and not you, but with your office resembling the Mary Celeste?

Stop feeling aggrieved, says Beverley Stone, a business psychologist.

“This is not a time to undermine your boss because you feel resentful. This is an opportunity to shine,” she says, adding that you should ensure your manager returns to an office in as good a shape as they left it. Ambitious workers should think of these quiet weeks as a chance to prove they are invaluable members of the team.

“Keep a note of the things you have done while the boss is away. So they are very clear about what you have been doing,” suggests Vanessa King, an organisational development consultant. She adds: “Often it’s quite difficult in the first couple of days on a return from holiday. Maybe draw up a list of priority things for your boss to do.”

If this sounds insufferable — treating your time trapped behind a desk as a chance to make your boss’s break more enjoyable — ensure, in return, they do not pester you with endless memos from the Tuscan villa or Borneo jungle.

Ms King adds: “If your boss is one of those that insists on checking in with the office, agree with them a specific time and format so that it is managed.” Telling your manager that they are not getting a much-needed break is a good way to encourage them to leave you in peace, suggests Ms King, who is a board member of Action for Happiness, an organisation that promotes happier workplaces and homes.

Research suggests that cheerful employees perform better at work. The University of Warwick found in 2014 that happy people were 12 per cent more productive than “normal” people. During the experiments, 700 volunteers were either shown a comedy clip making them laugh or given free chocolate or fruit as an incentive. They were then given arithmetic tasks.

The happy group performed better. The unhappy group (selected through a series of interviews to ascertain if they were experiencing problems in their personal lives) did worse.

The dog days of August are the time to put this theory to the test — especially if you are not particularly trying to impress your superiors. Take a long lunch break, come in late, watch a bit of sport on your desk computer.

Lisa Pantelli, director of People Lab, an employee engagement consultancy, says: “As long as deadlines are met, there’s no harm in August having a bit of a breather and taking it easy. It’s always a bit slower now.”

If nothing else, it is a great time to work through all those unanswered emails.

workingsmarter@ft.com

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