This past summer I spent a great week of vacation up in a mountain cabin surrounded by daily thunderstorms (for me that's a plus considering I live in a desert and the summers are scorching!), pine trees, and WiFi. The latter was a "must" stipulation while looking for a place to stay, along with the usual amenities one looks for when looking for a relaxing place to hang out, hike and generally wind down. However, I didn't realize that this need for connection was not only to enable me to check work emails (to catch those few that might need my attention before I returned to the office) as it was to cruise through Facebook every night. But by the second day -- when a response from a co-worker told me to not get back to her until my return -- did it hit me that I really needed to close it down and move on.
Let me be clear that this need was totally self-inflicted rather than a desire by my employer. After all, everyone bade me farewell and to "have a good one" as I darted out the door the day before my vacation started -- so I take full responsibility for this itch. So why is it that we tend to feel the need to stay connected to work when clearly "we are on vacation"? My colleague Lenny Sanicola just recently published a blog titled "You Can Take a Vacation But Promise Me You Won't Work," which gets to the heart of the value of vacations in the eyes of employers and employees. He even poses the question:
Am I connected all the time because I want to be? Am I expected to be? Or do I simply do it without thinking because it has become automatic?
In the 2012 WorldatWork Total Rewards and Well-being survey, when asked "What elements of well-being do you support within your organization?", 66% said that they encourage the use of vacations. That is consistent with another survey from Expedia, which cites 73% of American bosses support taking vacation.
I wonder how many organizations out there are not only supportive of their employees taking vacations, but encourage them to also disconnect and not work while they are away. How prominent is this? At this year's WorldatWork's Total Rewards Conference, the opening keynoters, Lynn Lancaster and Seth Mattison, mentioned that VW Germany actually deactivates their employees' work BlackBerrys after 7 p.m. so employees can turn off from work.
WorldatWork posed a QuickPoll question regarding whether employers communicate to employees to encourage the use of vacation. Forty-nine-point-one percent said, "No, we haven't, but guilt-free use of vacation time is consistent with our culture" and another 27.7% answered, "Yes, we have communicated this message to a large portion of or all employees."
Maybe as we celebrate National Work and Family Month, organizations can reaffirm their stance on why vacation time is important to the employee -- to come back refreshed and rejuvenated. Perhaps even include in an organization's wellness offerings a series of articles or webinars about the value of detaching or unplugging and what it gives back in terms of one's health and how it can add to enhanced engagement and productivity once the employee returns.