Untethered is a transitive verb that means “to free from.” Today’s workers, including most leaders, are anything but what this verb is describing. Since the advent of the Blackberry in 2003, followed by the iPhone only four years later, the workplace has used technology to chain us to our jobs. Even with so-called flex-time polices, the expectation remains that boundaries no longer exist between work and personal time.
The most recent Project: Time Off research by The U.S. Travel Association was conducted in early 2017 and the results are not encouraging. Just one-in-four (27%) employees actually unplug on vacation and nearly eight-in-ten (78%) say they are more comfortable taking time off when work is easily accessible. The problem compounds when the employees who check in the most (62%), are the least likely to use their earned time off.
The need to check in while on vacation is often impacted by the perceived barriers many employees use to justify their behavior. They cite things like…
- “I don’t want to return to a mountain of work.”
- “No one else can do my job.”
- “Time off is harder with seniority.”
- “I want to show complete dedication.”
These barriers contribute to much higher stress levels for those who refuse to be untethered (51% at home and 76% at work). They also create a self-fulfilling prophecy. When workers unplug, these barriers have less impact.
As a small business owner, it’s easy to justify checking emails or carrying my laptop home at the end of a typical workday. After all, my clients won’t be happy if I can’t be easily reached when they need my help. It’s a compelling argument but not a reflection of reality.
As you read this post I am vacationing with my wife in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. I am roughly 625 miles from my home and office. The house we are renting is equipped with Wi-Fi so I am connected, at least part of each day. But I will still be untethered.
My vacation strategy includes voice mail and email out-of-office messages to manage the expectations of anyone who contacts me. I restrict myself to checking emails twice each day. Clients can expect a reply, only if the issue is a true emergency. This year, an event registration deadline expires while I am away so any late requests will receive my attention. That will be an exception.
An organization’s willingness to encourage an untethered culture pays dividends in greater employee engagement. While workers may still check-in while away, they do so only occasionally. Their stress is also reduced and they tend to give extra effort as needed when they are at work. These same workers feel more supported and fulfilled on the job.
Surprisingly, Generation X is the least likely to be untethered on vacation (at 23%), even though millennials are often considered the more technologically savvy generation.
Work and technology are intimately linked. Employers need to understand the value of boundaries between the influence of technology on worker’s lives and how they view their worth. Encouraging employees to be untethered while away can have a lasting impact on loyalty and engagement.
It’s making a difference for me, too.
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com