On the beach

Holidays and technology: Should we switch off when we clock off?

We’re nearing the end of July, which also means we’re nearing the start of peak holiday season. Cue the predictable slew of stories aimed at the beleaguered office worker, giving direction on how to switch off from technology and work whilst away.

This has always struck me as odd; a positive working environment – and a positive mindset at work – should include an acknowledgement that an employee’s holiday time is their own, as well as the employee’s recognition of the importance of down time. Leaving work tasks when you leave the office should be a given.

I returned to Babel HQ last week after a long weekend away in southern Europe. Despite the changes to EU roaming laws, my phone lay neglected and unused at my Airbnb. I never once granted it the opportunity to visit the azure waters and golden sands of the nearby beaches, or to explore the historic ramparts of the old town.

Whilst technology can arguably enhance some experiences, there are others (which number far higher in my opinion) in which it poses a distraction, a nuisance and serves to erode engagement and enjoyment with the present.

But what about those important work emails I’m missing whilst carelessly frolicking in the Med? – a question likely posed by those who remain glued to their smartphone for work updates at all hours and in all locations. This, apparently, is over three-quarters of us, with 61% of this group reading work emails whilst on holiday.

I’m not a heavy tech user – and likely a Luddite by my peers’ standards – but, by bucking the trend with my holiday smartphone use was I shirking my duties? Should I have been tracking the developments of clients and content? Am I alone amongst my colleagues in ‘switching off’ when clocking off?

A straw poll amongst friends reassured me, with the prevailing argument (and my initial sentiment) being that holidays are an essential, and rare, opportunity to tune out of work. This includes any (or, dependent on the industry you work in, all) of the associated expectations, stresses, deadlines and pressures. I was further reassured to learn that this is backed up by solid evidence. Google is awash with reports detailing the negative consequences of allowing work to encroach on personal – and holiday – time.

A report from the Future Work Centre, for instance, links checking emails outside work hours with higher levels of stress. Over half of managers admit that their working hours have a negative effect on their stress levels, according to the CMI, with business leaders putting in 29 extra days of work a year. This must involve some serious out-of-hours email checking, as these additional hours effectively cancel out the standard 28 days of annual holiday entitlement.

Fortunately, I’ve never worked in an environment where I’ve felt pressured to extend my working hours into my personal time. This, coupled with planning ahead, balancing workload, designating tasks, and my outlook on the need for a work/life balance means that I’ve never been amongst the 61% of holiday email checkers.

Those who disconnect from tech and work on holiday should not feel less committed or less industrious. If reports and personal experience are to be believed, this approach leads to a happier, healthier workforce. There is a time for email and office tasks and technology, but there is also a time for unencumbered living and untethered experiences.

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