Holidays: your time to switch off

Posted on May 12, 2017 by Eleanor McKenzie
Switching off on holiday

We’re approaching the heart of the holiday season and I wonder how prepared you are to completely switch off? By that, I mean, are you somebody who finds it relatively simple to bury your smartphone in the sand (not literally!) and leave the laptop at home? Or, are you holidaying with somebody who likes to have a travelling office with them, just in case work needs something vital while you’re away?

On the whole, I find it quite easy to log off from social media and work, even if I’m just at home, and my recipe for going away ‘work-free’ is to put in some extra hours to ensure that anything scheduled for when I’m away is finished in advance. I also take great care to advise all my clients of the dates when I’ll be on holiday, not that they all take a blind bit of notice of this and still send Whatsapp messages asking if I could just do X, Y or Z. The answer is no, I’m not available, I told you I was on holiday etc.

However, I am aware that some people really have trouble distancing themselves from their devices, based on a ‘just in case’ argument. In some cases it is understandable, especially if you’re a business owner and you’re in the middle of some major transaction that doesn’t stop for anyone’s holidays. However, spending half the day on conference calls can wear down the other people with you. I find it annoying enough if I go out for a drink with a friend and they take long business calls in my company. You could say that I’m not very tolerant of the current phone culture. But, that’s a moan for another blog.

What does the research say?

Mintel, a company that has been publishing market reports for many years, revealed that now the average UK household owns 7.4 devices that connect to the web it is inevitable that some of them will go on holiday with us. The danger is not that we’ll spend days by the pool playing Candy Crush Saga or Scrabble, but that we just won’t be able to resist checking emails. Mintel’s report on the fact that we have become afraid of switching off said, “A significant proportion of consumers say they are unable to escape their work on holiday, in large part due to their inability to fully switch off. Connectivity can be a jailer, eroding once sacrosanct boundaries between work and leisure.” Or, as Sir Cary Cooper of Manchester Business School put it: “You may not want to work but you feel you should check in. Then you find an email that needs answering, and that’s it, you get sucked in.”

Is it the case that we feel indispensable? Elaine Slater, consultant therapist at The Priory Hospital, feels that it is not so much a feeling of being indispensable as a fear that we are replaceable. We are afraid that taking a holiday shows we are weak, unprofessional even. In my experience this is very much a part of business culture in the private sector. When I worked for a short time in the public sector, I discovered that nobody felt nervous about taking a break. Which is the right attitude and one that employers should encourage, because employees that are too insecure to enjoy a proper holiday are “not as vigilant, not able to work as quickly,” says Professor Cooper.

The French have enshrined ‘the right to disconnect from office communications’ in its employment laws, and at least two leading manufacturers have instigated systems that either stop work emails from reaching employees’ phones when they leave the office every day, or workers can “opt to have any emails they receive as they hit the beach automatically deleted so as not to get caught up with work when away, nor come back to email hell after two weeks,” as reported to The Telegraph by motor manufacturer Daimler.

Taking the ‘workation’ approach can also damage your relationship. Research by the University of Sussex shows that the use of a device by one partner encourages device use by the other, with the upshot that you spend most of the holiday communing with your devices rather than each other.

This issue is not confined to the younger ‘digital’ generation, we are all affected by it. So, perhaps we all need to remember that a holiday is referred to as ‘getting away from it all’ and make a concerted effort to stay away from work emails. Failing that, choose a destination with a very poor signal.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.