Memorial Day unofficially marks the beginning of summer for Americans, which is also the most popular time of year to take vacations and long weekends. Unfortunately, endless work messages and overflowing email inboxes may be preventing many knowledge workers from feeling like they can relax and unplug while on vacation. It’s no secret that being “always connected” impacts work-life balance, mental health and relationships—and it may also influence how much vacation time you take.
According to a new survey, 25% of people have not taken a vacation because of too much email when they got back, while another 34% shortened a vacation because of email. The number one reason people check email while on vacation is fear of losing their job. A whopping 95% of those surveyed say they would like to have a policy like the one German automaker Daimler created, where employees’ emails automatically delete, letting the sender know the recipient is on vacation and that they can send an email to someone else or wait until the person gets back to work.
“When we’ve gotten to that stage where email is preventing people from taking time off, we know we have a problem,” says Joe Robinson, stress management speaker, employee trainer, and author. “Technology is as addictive as substances. It’s an individual problem, a productivity problem, a work-life balance problem and a stress problem. Studies show the more email you do in the day, the less you feel like you’ve accomplished and the more stress you have. Email is now the most stressful feature of the workplace.”
If you are looking for motivation to keep you from logging on while you’re supposed to be logged off, here are three ways unplugging improves your mental health and performance.
Being Constantly Connected Hurts Productivity
Eighty-eight percent of survey respondents agree that permission to not check email on vacation should be written into the company vacation policy. While some may think staying connected is better for performance, getting unplugged can actually make you more productive in the long run.
“The big issue with email is there’s too much of it in terms of volume, but the other part of it is the interruptions,” says Robinson. Meaning the more email you respond to, the more responses you get and the more compelled you are to keep checking email.
“You lose your ability to regulate your impulsivity—not only for checking email every second of the day, but also for any other habits that you might not want, like Jim Beam or Sarah Lee,” says Robinson. “This is crucial for companies who really want to get serious about taking a stand against email and messaging run amok; these constant interruptions blow up our working memory, making productivity drop as much as 40% from multitasking alone.”
A Digital Detox Is Good For Your Relationships.
According to the survey, 49% say too much email has resulted in reduced personal or family time, and 90% of respondents say email is causing moderate to high chronic stress.
“If you are highly stressed out, what happens? You don’t attend to the people in your life, because stress and the negative emotions that come with it demand all of your attention, making your brain think you’re in a survival moment,” says Robinson. “When we’re in a bad frame of mind, we don’t tend to want to get together with other people and so it robs us of that quality time outside the job.”
Vacations with family and friends can help increase social connections and bonds, counteracting the effects of stress. Remaining present and focusing on the ones you’re with rather than on devices and checking messages can safeguard your relationships from allowing work stress to creep in while you’re out of office.
Disconnecting Can Restore Energy And Protect Against Burnout
Burnout is on the rise, and it not only impacts employees but also of course employers. Taking time off and being unplugged can help prevent burnout from happening in the first place.
“While it’s well-known that employee burnout is responsible for employees’ psychological and physical problems—at least $125 billion in healthcare spending to be exact—it’s also putting companies in severe debt,” says Veetahl Eliat-Raichel, CEO of Sorbet, a PTO compensation platform. “With hiring freezes and layoffs in some sectors, burnout is likely to get extraordinarily worse—and extraordinarily more expensive for employers. We need to encourage and legitimize employees to take time to take care of themselves. This not only benefits the employee, it creates a more productive workplace and results in less turnover for employers.”
Your body and mind has psychological limits and if you don’t allow yourself to rest and to unplug, you’ll deplete your reserves and your ability to handle stress in a healthy way. “All stress is caused not by some external event or something somebody said in a conversation you had; it’s the story you tell yourself about the stressful incident,” says Robinson.
A concept called work recovery is key to help counteract burnout. “The basic idea behind it is that stress burns up all these energetic resources in your body over the course of the day and they have to be replaced. If we go home and we keep the pressure going after work, we have no ability to allow our body to recuperate. Taking vacations also helps us replenish our energy reserves.”
Patrice Ford Lyn, executive coach and CEO of Catapult Change, believes that if you take your rest and rejuvenation as seriously and intentionally as you take your work, you can come back to your job with a level of freshness and clarity that isn’t possible if you don’t take a time out. “We talk about deep work to get work done, but we also need vacation to do the deep work of rest,” she says. “There are benefits for our bodies as adrenaline and cortisol levels decrease when we relax, to our communities to show up for others in a way that is less hurried, and to our work in terms of increasing creativity.”