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Disconnecting in a world that's always on

Over the last year, many employees have brought work into their personal lives in a way we haven't seen in the past. The line between work and home became blended when many were forced to leave the workplace and work from home. On top of that, many have dealt with depression and mental health issues due to being so isolated. I believe that these issues have lead to an increased number of employees feeling burnt out or dealing with burnout symptoms. The HR Exchange Network shared a recent Gallup poll showing that two thirds of employees are dealing with burnout at some point at work.

Our world has changed to be always on. This causes stress, disengagement, and could cause mental health challenges for our employees. Usually, the answer would be, "take a vacation." However, with most things shut down, employees felt like they couldn't take a vacation in the last year. Why take a vacation? There's no where to go and I'm already home? I believe that this is starting to change. With the restrictions on the pandemic being lifted, many are starting to travel once again and starting to take vacations.

However, taking vacation doesn't always mean disconnecting from work. There's an unwritten expectation in some cultures that you have to stay connected while on vacation and the level of connectivity while away from the office depends on the culture of the organization. Why? I think there are many different reasons. First, is the culture of the company. We follow the examples that the leaders set and if they are working on vacation, the employees feel like they need to follow suit. Sometimes, it's up to the employee to "allow" themselves to disconnect. We are so programmed to be on all the time that it's hard to shut it off.

Vacation allows employees a time to break away, decompress, reconnect with loved ones, reduce stress and rejuvenate. If employers are requiring employees to work on their vacations, they're losing out on all of these benefits and will continue to foster a culture of burnout and disengagement. This will also affect the employee's health in the long run, which negatively affects healthcare costs.

To help employees disconnect, I recommend the following:

  1. Set expectations: Managers should work with the employee to set the expectation that they don't need to be "on" during vacation. Talk to your employees and learn how they plan to relax and disconnect from work during vacation. Doing this on an ongoing basis will create a culture that allows people to step away and take time off. You can also set an example as a leader by taking the time to step away and disconnecting.

  2. Hold the phone: Before picking up the phone to call the employee during vacation, ask yourself if it's really that important. Have you tried other ways to resolve it? Can it wait until the employee returns?

  3. Set a back up plan: Who needs to cover what while you're away?

  4. Out of Office: Set an out of office pointing someone to the right person to help while you're away so work doesn't pile up

  5. Relax: Don't beat yourself up while on vacation. This is your time to decompress and enjoy a brief break. Your health and work performance will thank you for it!

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