Many working people, especially leaders, have difficulty completely disengaging from their work when they take time off. From working after they’ve put the kids to bed to checking emails “just one last time” before hopping on a flight, their work has a tendency to follow them wherever they go.
The numbers are startling: According to a survey by MyPerfectResume of over 1,000 workers, 82% of respondents admitted to working while on vacation, and nearly 90% said they check work messages and emails while on vacation. In an interesting turn of events, only 51% of respondents felt that working while on vacation negatively impacted their lives, while a whopping 42% said they’d actually taken vacation days to do more work.
In the United States, “hustle culture” continues to reign supreme, praising long work hours, late nights, weekend work and—yes—working while on vacation. But being unable to separate work from our personal lives can take a toll on our overall productivity, negatively impacting personal relationships and leading to burnout.
Taking time off and stepping fully away from work plays an important role in mental health, keeping us present and improving our relationships with the people around us.
It Can Negatively Impact Motivation Levels
For some it may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true: working on non-work days can make us less motivated. A study by Harvard Business Review found a direct correlation between working on days off and less intrinsic motivation—that is, desire to complete an activity for the satisfaction of doing it versus there being a consequence for not doing it.
Reduced intrinsic motivation leads to less effort put into their work and less joy derived from doing it. The study highlighted the importance of distinctly separating “work time” and “personal time” as a way to boost motivation. In other words, by disconnecting completely when it’s time to rest and relax, you’ll be more motivated when you return to work.
It Creates Dependency from Team Members
One of the best ways to learn is by failing, or being forced into a situation where they need to figure a solution out for themselves. Constantly checking in, even when you’re supposed to be taking time off, creates and sustains a dependency on your knowledge and expertise.
By forcing your team to fend for themselves for a few days while you’re away, you’re actually helping them to grow as professionals and helping them to become more independent for future times when you’re away or unavailable. Think of it as building the foundation for you to worry less about your team during future vacations!
It Negatively Impacts Interpersonal Relationships
Vacations and time off work present a great opportunity for us to foster our relationships with significant others, children, family members and friends. But interestingly enough, just the presence of a phone during a meal or conversation has the potential to spoil the experience and reduce the quality of social interactions.
In a 2017 survey by Harris Poll, 14% of survey respondents had a family member call them out for working on vacation. However, just because it isn’t called out doesn’t mean that the people you’re with aren’t feeling the effects of the inability to disconnect from work. Constantly checking for work emails at the dinner table, waking up early to check emails, or even stepping away to take a call can all interrupt important social connections while taking time away from work.
It Establishes an Important Personal Boundary
At some point in Earth’s history the idea of setting boundaries evolved from a logical action to being viewed as selfish, but boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships in both professional and personal settings.
As Sahar Andrade, MB.BCh said in her July 2021 Forbes article The Importance Of Setting Healthy Boundaries, “Your boundaries are the rules for how others learn to behave around you, how you want to be treated, what you will accept and what you will not — they are based on your own needs and wants. It is not selfish, rude, pushy or self-centered to make these requests. It is understanding your value, knowing your priorities and making sure that others do as well.”
Establishing personal boundaries that protect your physical, mental, and emotional health is necessary to become the best, most productive version of yourself. And in some cases—like when you’re on vacation—that means completely unplugging from work to recharge and come back to work feeling refreshed and ready to face down the next challenge coming your way.
Tips for Fully Disengaging
It’s all well and good to discuss the reasons we should fully separate ourselves from our work while on vacation, but actually doing so is an entirely different matter. Many people have enormous anxiety when leaving their work behind, but there are a few steps you can take to begin alleviating the fear of your work exploding the second you step away from it.
Set up a chain of command before you leave.
Think about the people on every level of your team. Who is equipped with the know-how to handle each of your responsibilities while you’re out of the office? Who can your team members direct their questions to while you’re away? Determining the answers to these questions, and making those answers clear to each of your team members, is a great way to make sure projects are still handled while you’re away.
Set expectations with your clients while you’re gone.
If you meet with clients regularly, make sure they know you’ll be unavailable far before you actually take time off. While you can let them know who they can contact for the duration of your time away from work, you can also include your point-person’s contact information in your automated out-of-office email. Consider changing your out-of-office email to something like, “I’ll be out of the office on vacation until [date]. Please direct any questions to [name] at [email address], or to [name] at [phone number].” This can take the heat off of you while you’re out without leaving your clients feeling stranded.
Turn off notifications, but give your team your number for emergencies.
While turning off notifications can cause some anxiety for certain people, many find it wonderfully liberating to completely disconnect when they’re taking time off. If you decide to shut off your notifications while you’re out, communicate to your team that they should only contact you by phone for emergencies. Some situations truly are dire and require your immediate attention, but these shouldn’t go to your inbox. Make sure each member of your team has your phone number for truly urgent issues, but keep your other work notifications turned off.
Disconnect to Reconnect and Recharge
Whether you’re taking time off for yourself or to spend time with people you care about, make sure you’re giving time away from work your full attention. Trust your team to handle any fires that pop up while you’re away, or that they’ll reach out to you if something truly needs your attention. We promise, your work will be waiting for you right where you left it, and you’ll be all the more ready to tackle it when you return feeling refreshed.