How (not) to switch off on holiday

Brid-Aine Parnell

Tuesday 25 August 2015

A constant connection to work has given us flexible and home working, but it’s also keeping staff going 24/7 – even on holiday.

I’m about to head off on a week’s holiday to Ireland. Despite the fact that I’m only taking carry-on luggage, both my laptop and my smartphone will be going with me, with all their automatic connections to my work email, content management systems and word processing software.

Just like many other well-connected workers, I won’t be able to switch off during my holiday. A recent UK survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) of a thousand British workers found that three in five employees will feel obligated to work while on annual leave. And the upshot of this always-on attitude? Nearly three quarters of staff are more stressed out ahead of their holidays and almost one in five return to work more stressed than when they left.

“Our survey paints a picture of an over-stressed workforce, who feel they cannot afford to switch off for fear of falling behind on workloads,” says Charles Elvin, chief exec of ILM.

“It is crucial that people are able to make the most of their time off work to fully relax, reflect and recharge. This allows them fresh perspective and energy to tackle their work on return from holiday.”

Between those who feel obligated to work and those, like me, who manage their own hours but can’t seem to take a break, the power of technology to keep us connected is ensuring we don’t really recharge.

Work-life balance is a key term in HR right now. The ranks of staff working from home, enjoying flexible hours or job-sharing is growing across Europe. The common view is that the balance is shifting towards the ‘life’ end of the scale, but if flexible workers never stop checking emails and answering queries, are they in fact switching from set working hours to a life with no free time?

It might sound like a boss’ dream, but always-on staff are likely to burn out quickly. France sees it as so much of a problem that it introduced rules last year to protect people working in the digital and consultancy sectors from work email outside office hours. The legally-binding deal between employers’ federations and unions specified that staff have to switch off their work phones during their downtime and employers are not allowed to pressure them to check in.

The message for workers’ stress levels is clear – they need to switch off. But just how to do that in a constantly connected world is not so easy to figure out.


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