Holidays are the prize every employee works towards all year round – a break from the monotony of producing, meeting deadlines and maintaining motivation. A large number of workers feel pressured (either from management or peers) to delay their holidays, despite entitlement allowing breaks to be taken at most times during a working year in agreement with the employees contract. However, as many as 50% of Britons surveyed by the Guardian felt obliged to work near the pool, on the train or in the morning during their getaway to keep up with work demands and to seem ‘dedicated’ to their career. In fact, nearly three quarters of those surveyed agreed that the prospect of holiday delivers more stress than the holiday itself relieves. So where does the problem start?
In the age of always-on technology, it is easier than ever to connect with employers, colleagues and work friends through emails and social media. At the turn of this decade, we began receiving email and push notifications to our devices, unbeknownst to the expectations this new technology would pose on us. Take a look at a 5.30pm train in London – a carriage full of commuters, all posed head down, finishing emails, signing off reports and liaising for calls later that evening. Gone are the days where work stayed at work, as so many workers now put in time beyond contractual hours to ‘stand out’ and be known amongst those in companies capable of passing on good words around promotion. Of course, times arise where we need to close a work email or deal just out of hours to promote an image of business and productivity, yet this once rarity is now commonplace.
One must ponder – do we now live in a time where it is nigh-on impossible to not have technology strapped to our appendages? In times gone by, holiday would be taken without guilt, and jetting towards the years got-to-have destination instilled a sense of freedom away, giving rise to feelings of excitement at the return to work. So much has changed though, where the beast of capitalism and productivity demand our attention round the clock. Do we look towards managers and directors to set out precedent on phone and technology policies when taking holiday time? It is prudent to imagine that even those in high end positions don’t fully relax on their holidays, and may even have to stay somewhat connected in their absence.
This constant state of alertness, even on holiday and in times of rest, is the perfect catalyst for our sympathetic nervous system, squeezing out adrenaline into our bodies whenever necessary, causing a feeling of anxiety and anticipation. Many of us may have seen individuals even reprimanded for taking time to respond to emails, and management must be sensitive to the demands of the society and job being performed. But the emphasis here is to assert oneself and respect the sanctity of holiday time away from the demands of everyday life. Guilt should be replaced by satisfaction, particularly in the context of those secure in full time work and employment. The perils of the self-employed include work which may not be guaranteed – and most often – the lack of a paid holiday.
Indeed, management and employees often find the time emphasising rest actually directly leads to an improved work performance, away from the constant bombardment of senses and cognitive demand of piles of unread emails.
Some employees find solace in working for companies with older managers or bosses who potentially are further afield from digital connectiveness, not having to worry about being a text message away. But is technology only to blame? As a society we value productivity high above anything else, often equating the production and supply as equivocal to self-worth. Embracing the harshness of the modern reality is often hard to swallow, and something which leads to work-related stress, depression and anxiety. In fact, almost half a million new cases of work-related stress were reported in the 17/18 sales period.
An interesting perspective to end on: is it always management pressing the demand on us? We often learn our social and work cues from those around us, and aside from supportive colleagues – there are often those we feel we need to ‘outperform’ in order to secure our role or future promotion. A sense of peer pressure in these environments can arise – particularly in competitive individuals – who push and push themselves to exhaustion through the need to keep up in an understaffed society. The ‘always-on’ conundrum may get worse before it gets better, but it feels things are going to reach a breaking point before legislation, government and policy changes are issued around working/holiday laws and technological interaction.
At WorkingWell, we offer some simple solutions to challenging your own ‘always-on’ behaviours when you book time off work. Some of the strategies we’ve used to great effect both personally and with clients include;
· A beer and business hour – dedicating one hour of the day to look over work email, and do so with a drink or your favourite snack to lighten up the atmosphere
· Once a day mode – promise yourself to assign either a morning or evening slot each day to glance over emails, and only respond to priority or emergency communications
· Disable push notifications – this option can be useful when wanting to create a sense of space in the mind by preventing constant buzzes and notifications. This is a great way to still receive important emails, but have the capacity to read them and respond in your own time rather than being drawn away from your relaxing time.