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Jul 9, 2024

Unplugging on Vacation: a Right and a Duty

Written by Mariateresa Romeo

Disconnecting from work during vacation depends, without doubt, on the corporate culture and work environment expectations, but most of all on our ability to set boundaries, practice self-compassion, and be responsible for our well-being and mental health.

Summer is typically when many employees and professionals plan to take time off and enjoy a well-deserved vacation. However, how many of them refrain from thinking about their job obligations, responsibilities, or deadlines during this time?

Many of us can relate to this everyday struggle.

According to the latest Harris Poll Out of Office Culture Report, of 1,170 employed adults in the US, about 60% of respondents said they found it challenging to disconnect from work during their vacation fully. 86% admitted to checking emails from their boss, and 56% took work-related calls during their time off.
To corroborate this common issue, although most Americans are satisfied with their company’s paid time off policy, about 78% used less than the maximum number of days off provided by their employer last year. Therefore, data shows a challenge with unplugging from work during vacation and a difficulty related to stepping away from the workplace and planning time off.
The need to stay connected with our work environment during vacation or outside working hours has roots in the workplace culture and our ability to prioritize ourselves and our well-being.

Unplugging should be recognized as a fundamental right in a workplace where being “always connected” is the norm.

Constant connectivity, which gives everyone the flexibility to check emails, join meetings, and access corporate information systems and documents from anywhere and at any time, has led to the spread of an “always-on” culture in many organizations. The line between employees’ personal and work lives blurred, and workplace pressure to be productive and be on top of work commitments significantly increased to become toxic sometimes.
To curb this phenomenon, several European Countries and Australia recently introduced the “legal right to disconnect,” allowing employees to switch off outside working hours and choose not to engage with work communications without being penalized.

To change these cultures, organizations must go beyond communicating the importance of employee mental well-being and educating the workforce about burnout risks. They must modify people’s perception of vacation: it is not a luxury or a prize hard to earn.

It is a right, and, as such, it must be considered. It is not the employees who use their paid time off who should be discouraged or penalized, but those who make it difficult to ask for it or keep getting in touch with others on vacation.

Disconnecting from work is a fundamental duty to safeguard our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Although workplace conditioning can significantly impact an employee’s choice to unplug during vacation, often, the game is played on the individual’s mindset and behaviors.

The need for control and inability to delegate, the fear of being judged unreliable or left outside of essential decisions, the concern for the excessive backlog to manage upon their return, the incapacity to relax and to fill their time with activities not work-related or, even doing nothing, the lack of meaningful relationships that make them crave for time off, are only some of the reasons keeping people constantly connected to their work environment.

Behind it all is often the lack of deep connection with one’s emotional, mental, and physical needs and deliberative and efficient care for one’s health.

As an executive coach, I supported several professionals in changing their behaviors regarding taking time off and setting up personal and professional life boundaries. People know the importance of unplugging from work for their mental well-being and are fully aware of the health risks of stress and burnout. They don’t need warnings about the need to rest for a few days or weeks.

In many cases, individuals must thoroughly explore their motivation and connection to work. Through this, they may uncover that the desire to be “always on” is often motivated by the need to “be away from something else.”

Like corporate culture, you can change your behavior by changing your perception of health and well-being: they are not things to take for granted or things we can delegate to others to take care of. Our bodies and minds can function at their best for a long time only if we, as individuals, take good care of them, preventing risks and damage and providing all the resources they need.

When individuals hold themselves accountable for their mental, emotional, and physical health, as they do for their business and work duties or financial well-being, they revisit their priorities and discover that a week of vacation must be a pleasant time to recharge their mind and body to be effective.

Still, it is a duty to themselves in the first place.

Want to learn more about making the most of your vacation? Read this post about Dolce Far Niente: The Italian Secret to Relax, Refresh and Reconnect.

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