The way we work is changing, and while it is exciting to experience these changes, workloads continue to increase, placing even more pressure on workers. Together with developments in technology, such as WiFi and smartphones, we are experiencing a culture of people working outside their core hours, and even working through holidays.
While technology makes it very easy to work while on holiday, if workers are not able to switch off and relax then they are less likely to return to work feeling re-energized and motivated, and productivity may suffer. There is also a risk that staff who work while on holiday will not get the health benefits of a complete break and may go on to develop stress-related ill health. Working on holiday can also interfere with important family time and can therefore have a detrimental impact on relationships. Stress is a big cause of long-term absence in Canada and can affect the productivity and profitability of a business.
That said, for some working while on holiday is less stressful than the pressures of getting things done before going away or returning to a mountain of work afterwards. At one time I did advocate for working holidays. My routine was to work three to five hours in the morning, then goof off for the rest of the day. It worked for me and my family, or so I thought — I’ve since changed my tune.
For the past ten years, Your Workplace has completely shut down for the last two weeks of July. It is easier on staff, as no one has to cover another person’s workload, and our auto-responders say that we are not checking messages and to contact us again when we return. It works very well for us. On our first day back we spend the customary half-hour updating each other on how we spent our time, and then we are back at it.
This year, when it was time for us to discuss what we needed to work on, everyone fell silent. We were so relaxed and disengaged from work that we needed time to slip back into work mode. In the past, I would cite the projects to refresh everyone’s memory, then “crack the whip” to move everyone along. But this year I sat in awe, marvelling at the moment of transition. This is what holidays are supposed to achieve, I thought to myself: a total disconnect to enable people to return refreshed and re-energized.
We all need and deserve proper holidays and breaks from work. Breaks are what allow us to stay creative, stay healthy and stop ourselves from drowning under a sea of work-related stress. Yet the desire to stay connected can be overwhelming, and we often check in with work even though we know we should not.
Recently, I acquired a rental cottage that has made me even more aware of this. Connectivity is limited there — even with a closely positioned cell tower, the rock formations cause reduced reception. I belaboured over installing the technology needed to permit connectivity, then instead got some board games, books and puzzles for the cottage.
Nineteen groups of people have stayed there so far, and all reported that they liked the forced disconnect. They did more reading, talking, exploring and playing. A campfire every evening replaced the mindless habit of television watching. The biggest test was for the five tech whizzes, who spent endless hours walking around with their devices trying to find a signal. The one from Silicon Valley said it took until day five of seven to realize that it was okay to shut down.
It really is healthy to disconnect. If your staff are doing work while on holidays, investigate the underlying causes. It may be issues of capability or workload, and you may need to look at ways of increasing efficiency and productivity to prevent your team from carrying work over into their holidays.
Some employers may advocate working on holiday but, given the adverse impact it may have on business and employee well-being, employers would be wise to discourage working or even being contactable while away. A rigid policy that prohibits working on holiday is unlikely to be workable in practice.
It is about your culture. A best approach is to encourage a culture of employees not working or communicating with work while on holiday. And the first step I have learned is to be the role model for your team.