You started dreaming more than a year ago. You read a ton of blogs and began planning the perfect vacation. You saved up and then secured all the travel arrangements. You packed for every possible scenario.
You’ve arrived in your version of paradise, and the accommodations you booked are just what you’d hoped. You’ve scouted the perfect restaurants and excursions to enjoy. Everything is just what you anticipated—maybe even better—and you’re so ready to truly relax so it can all sink in….
EXCEPT YOU DON’T.
You check work email. You look at your phone again and again, making sure more texts aren’t coming in from your department. You promise yourself you’ll keep your responses short and only when necessary—but back at the office, because they saw you responded even when your out-of-office reply said you were unavailable, you’ve clearly indicated things are still “game on” for you. And the emails don’t let up. A few voice messages trickle in, usually starting something like, “Heyyyyy, I know you’re on vacation, BUT…”
How do you feel when you read this? Does this sound too familiar, perhaps your own behavior or something you see regularly from your team members?
There is ever-growing scientific evidence indicating preoccupation with work and the inability to unplug is detrimental to productivity. Pushing ourselves constantly to do one more (and one more) task, to send just a few more emails, and to make a couple of last quick calls until we don’t remember where the time went…ultimately causes our brains to rebel against us. We find our usual creativity to be lacking, our quick thinking to have slowed and words start to escape us. We become irritable and listless, distracted and more easily frustrated.
According to a report by the U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off Coalition’s report “The Tethered Vacation,” only 27% of U.S. employees actually unplug from work during their vacations and 78% say they are more comfortable taking time off if they know they can access work. More than a fourth of employees say they check back in hourly or several times a day. Employees who maintain more frequent contact with the office during vacation generally fear work will pile up and no one else can handle their responsibilities—and the fear of taking time off only increases as they advance professionally. Fifty-one percent of those who check in frequently report stress in their home life, compared to the 36% who actually unplug on vacation. Those stress levels ramp up substantially more at work.
Organizations have the ability to create cultures that support unplugging, and the benefits are very real. The fact is that employees in supportive environments are significantly more engaged. 69% feel valued for their contributions, 64% feel their employer cares for them as a person inside and outside of the office, and 73% feel their jobs are important to the company’s mission. Engaged employees who are able to unplug on vacation are the same ones who are willing to put in the extra time later under tough deadlines or when a project necessitates.
As a leader, you may wonder how much you can truly influence the culture of your organization when it comes to unplugging. Research cited in “The Tethered Vacation” indicates managers and their behaviors have an enormous influence over direct reports’ time—actually more than their own families. The fact is that managers who don’t disconnect when on vacation (86%) are frequently putting pressure on direct reports to do the same. In the end, the push for continuous productivity and constant connection ultimately results in an opposite effect: employees who feel their leader places pressure on them to stay connected to work are generally less likely to be truly engaged. In other words, they’re present…but they’re not really there. And not only are they not really there, 40% of employees in unsupportive cultures are planning or already looking for new jobs.
Leaders worth following set the tone within their organizations. When leaders actively model behaviors they expect to see in team members and establish rules of engagement that benefit everyone, the outcome is overwhelmingly positive. Through proactive planning and shared responsibility, it is possible to establish work environments that allow all employees the opportunity to take time needed to recharge and refresh—and in so doing actually increase productivity while building loyalty.
Time to dust off that passport and turn off those mobile phone notifications for a few days—be the change!