To switch off or not to switch off? That is the question

Can you remember that feeling at the end of a well-earned holiday break? And, as you remember that, can you imagine that feeling you have when you think of getting back to emails and back to the workplace?

 

Is it a feeling of dread, envisaging the backlog of things to deal with on your return? Or a feeling of pride that you have been able to stay on top of things while you were away?

 

For most of us, truly switching off on holiday is not easy. With our emails, Teams and Zoom on our phones and wifi being accessible in almost every corner of the world, this is not surprising. However, I was shocked to learn quite how much of a challenge this is, with only 14% of managers fully disconnecting from their work while on holiday and only 7% of senior leadership teams.

 

To be honest, I fully empathise with those who do keep working over their breaks. I have spent most of my career doing the same. It took an ocean race which placed me in the middle of the Pacific, with no wifi and a tight shift pattern, to first break this spell. Subsequently, I do try to make a habit of getting a week or so off each year, but it is still not easy. However, it is always valuable and, as I read the science behind the holiday break, it is something I am seeing more and more benefit in.

 

In this article, I am going to share with you some of the reasons why switching off this summer might be the best business decision you ever make and give you some tips on how to do it effectively.

 

  • Why switch off during the holidays?

 

Katie Denis warns that “emailing while you’re on vacation is a quick way to ruin company culture”. That’s right, you might think that you are prioritising your team, supporting them at all times, however, you are also saying “I don’t trust you”. Trust is a cornerstone of engagement, motivation and staff loyalty, so this subtle message could be having more of an impact than you know, and perhaps not the one you intended.

 

A second factor to consider, when thinking about taking time off, is how this aligns with your overall wellbeing strategy. If, like most companies, your organisation have spent the last year emphasising their commitment to support the mental health of their employees, it is worth asking what message your commitment to take time off might have. Research shows that role modelling positive behaviours has more impact than telling people to do something. Your commitment to taking time away from your emails may be the inspiration your team need to look after themselves, preventing burnout and promoting engagement. On the flipside, not taking time off can quickly undo all the good work you have done in promoting wellbeing, sending the message that work is the priority and wellbeing is a ‘nice to have’ or a box-ticking exercise.

 

A final thought is, how might working over a holiday influence someone’s perception of your leadership skills? A leader who can manage and prioritise their workload so that they can walk away from the office for a well-earned break is a leader most people would aspire to be – a leader in control, effective and focused. Taking time off can actually improve your credibility more than being available 24/7. Deloitte Consulting CEO Jim Moffatt says “You’ll be amazed at what you can do when you’re unplugged—and what your people have accomplished when you plug back in. I can personally attest, you’ll be a more confident and better leader because of it.”

 

So, if we know we want to do it, how can we ensure we can do it with peace of mind? Here are my top tips

 

  • How to switch off during a holiday?

 

  1. Think ahead

 

It might seem obvious that we need to think ahead and plan for taking a break, however, common sense is not always common practice. Start planning 3 to 4 weeks in advance, communicating with your team, including those you report to and those who you report to. Ensure you give people time to think through potential concerns or issues and ask questions so that you can create a plan of action with them for situations that might arise. A good question to ask is “what one extra thing can I do to make your more comfortable during the period I am away?” When you are thinking ahead, don’t forget to communicate with your customers too. This will enable them to plan ahead and give them confidence that they have someone else to contact in your absence.

 

  1. Set ground rules

 

Discuss and agree ground rules with your team about what is expected and what is acceptable when people are not working. This clarifies expectations which reduces stress and makes every team member feel more able to switch off when taking annual leave. A recent study showed that when people feel they cannot unplug on holiday they are less likely to feel valued by their company and twice as likely to be looking for a new job within the next year. Ground rules ensure the message is loud and clear that employees are expected and supported to take meaningful holidays. They can also offer the chance for colleagues to hold each other accountable to their vacation commitments. One example could be not responding to emails from people who are on holiday.

 

  1. Embrace the opportunity to empower others

 

Giving your team the chance to step out of their comfort zone, take on new responsibility, develop and learn is a perfect way to boost motivation, engagement and workplace satisfaction. Empowering and trusting employees are fundamental to building a positive workplace culture so I encourage you to see how stepping away from your emails for a short time is an opportunity not to be missed. If you want to learn more about this, you can read more in this Linked in post all about the neuroscience of trust and engagement.

 

  • A final thought

 

Sometimes the nature of projects or your role may mean that disconnecting 100% from your work is not possible. If that is the case, establish clear boundaries around times of day that you will work and will be available to contact. It is important to avoid ‘grazing’ emails all day and setting ‘working hours’ will ensure that you optimise efficiency in the time that you are working. Once you have established these, you may need to communicate these to your family, setting ground rules and managing expectations to avoid conflict or disappointment.

 

The key is that there is never a one-size-fits-all approach in life. Choose a strategy that you think will meet your needs as well as supporting your team and then commit to it. If it doesn’t work out, accept that sometimes things don’t go according to plan and learn from it. Use each experience to inform your next strategy until you find one that works for you and your team.

Charlotte Wiseman


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