Taking Time Off Work? Then Don’t Work!

How often have you found yourself checking your work email while on vacation? Or still holding your weekly check-in meetings, even on a day off? Whether it’s a break of a few weeks, or a weekly routine of long weekends, many of us take vacation time during the Summer. But how many of are really using that as time away from work? A 2017 Glassdoor study of more than 2,000 adults found that 66% of Americans reported working while on vacation – a number that had increased by 5% from just three years earlier. In addition, respondents said they had only taken 54% of the vacation days for which they were eligible. Only 23% of employees take all of the time they are entitled to, and 9% take no paid time off at all. In 2018, American workers left a record 768 million days of vacation on the table – up nearly 10% from the year before – according to the U.S. Travel Association.

With an increase in a hybrid work/home lifestyle over the last few years, an increased reliance on smartphones, and an increase in companies offering “unlimited vacation days” (which actually leads to people taking fewer vacation days, and working more while on vacation), it is very likely these trends will continue. We continue to be the busiest people ever even while supposedly taking a break. All of which means that our vacations don’t afford our bodies and minds the rest that we need to reset for what’s next.

Depending on your role, this may be built into your job expectations; you may need to be available around the clock. If so, you can still work on setting expectations for others that give you some healthy boundaries. But for the majority of us, the feeling of “I have to do some work” is simply another version of the Puritan work ethic that’s ingrained in our society. While the meme accompanying this article is an exaggeration, it’s worth noting that European cultures value work, but they also strongly value life outside of work. If your company culture is built around the Puritan work ethic, it takes time and conscious effort to change. If your company is based in the US, such change is counter-cultural. You’re likely to hit roadblocks, and a general reversion to default to the status quo. But it is possible. And you can make a difference with your own actions – for yourself and for others.

This Week’s Tips:

Plan and communicate for your time off this season:

  1. Are you using the time off you’re entitled to? If not, plan to take some this season. If a long break doesn’t work for you, plan to take a day off each week to rest and reset.
  2. Plan your boundaries, and take steps to support yourself. Choose what you will do and not do during your time off. Will you take a break from checking your work email? Then remove your work email app from your phone! Would you like a break from technology altogether? Leave your phone at home while you’re away. Do you plan to check in once a week, or once (briefly) each day? Set yourself reminders so you don’t have to think about that the rest of the time.
  3. Clearly communicate your boundaries to others. Let team members and clients know what you will and will not be available for. Doing so will encourage them to do the same, and start to build a foundation of taking a real break from work.
  4. Unplug, and encourage others to do so. Be where you are; avoid the temptation to do work simply because it’s your habit. Make choices to avoid the busyness addiction.

Try these out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you.

In keeping with this article, we’ll be taking the next two weeks off. If you subscribe to our weekly newsletter, keep an eye out for recaps of a few older articles of interest during that time. As always, you can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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