Summer is here: the season we await to temporarily disconnect from work and reconnect with nature, but that was before the COVID-19 global lock-down. Summer is historically associated with vacations and family time: employees would take their annual leaves, pack with their families, and flock to the seaside, letting the crystal-clear waters and the beauty of nature heal their minds, release their tension, and wash away the long-year worries and stresses. The Coronavirus, however, is forcing a good percentage of the population to “stay at home,” glued to mobiles and laptops with nothing to do but focus on work, now that all errands, activities, and outings are canceled. Is this voluntary immersion in work good news for the employers? Not necessarily.
While employers may take a certain degree of glee in employees’ over-dedication to or even addiction of work, employers need to teach their employees to take breaks, disconnect, and achieve a work-life harmony. Vacationing and disconnecting from work serve not only the well-being of the employee, but also the welfare of the organization.
“There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that not granting or taking vacation time is damaging to employees and organizations.”
The Case for Disconnecting
Vacation is a necessity, not a luxury. Overworking ends in burnout and disengagement. Vacations, contrarily, foster creativity, productivity, happiness, and engagement. The American Psychology Association explains that taking time off from work improves life satisfaction, physical and mental well-being, and again productivity.
For sustained productivity, long-term success, and better employee retention, employers need to adopt a pro-disconnection mindset and deliberately develop a culture that incorporates organized disconnection from work. Employers should push towards a work-life harmony for their employees. Here are more reasons why.
Balance is a basic human need. We, human beings, are made up of multiple synergistic components and designed to function in diverse environments that interact to balance our lives, like the balance of the day and the night. A number of forces push and pull at us, and it is our task to maintain a fair distribution of the weight of these forces. Our psyche, body, mind, and soul aspire to different media to flourish: physical effort, mental effort, spiritual time, nature, and peace of mind. If we opt for a direction and ignore the others, delving into work at the expense of physical activity and a time of tranquility, we will suffer physically and psychologically. At the workplace, if employees fail to incorporate the elements that feed their basic constituents at right percentages, their ability to function dwindles—even if they are class-A performers. Instead of hailing your superheroes who are available 24/7, find a strategy that helps them work smarter, not longer, and allocate time daily for life away from work. This is a recipe for preserving your main asset—the employee.
Stress kills productivity. Stress, too, is a pandemic. Worldwide, people are over-stressed, overthinking, and consumed by uncertainty:
“Will I preserve my job while lots of places have been forced to shut down?”
“How can I protect myself and my family from the unrelenting coronavirus?”
“How can I maintain my productivity, quality of work, and work-life harmony with these work-from-home and social distancing trends?”
Stress wrecks havoc with our health and our productivity. It increases susceptibility to cardiovascular disease, inflammatory diseases, mental problems, sleep and eating disorders, loss of focus, social dysfunction, and family tension.
Disconnecting and vacationing offer an opportunity to recover from stress, mitigate its side effects, revitalize our minds. Periodic vacations and regular disconnection from work are leaps on the path to a work-life harmony.
A relaxed and assured employee is a loyal employee. When leaders secure their staff the right to disconnect, they are investing in employee loyalty, ownership, engagement, and productivity.
Employees generally sense an increasing need to work beyond the official hours and are even reluctant to take an annual leave for more than a reason:
· They feel insecure. The competition at the workplace is fierce that everyone is too hesitant to stop and catch their breaths lest they should lose the race.
· They are worried about the overwhelming load of work that will await them and the demands from the upper management to make up for the missed days.
· They are worried that they will be frowned upon and blamed for wishing to disconnect and accused of selfishness for taking some time for themselves.
· They are worried they will miss on something big—so even if they go on a vacation, they will continue to check their emails and answer calls and texts from work.
The C-suite needs to adopt an employee-oriented culture of cooperation, trust, solidarity, and understanding to eliminate these concerns. Then the employees will not hesitate to take a break, assured that they have their colleagues’ and supervisors’ blessing and support. And when the employee feels that it is safe to disconnect and recharge, they will come back from their vacation rested, refreshed, and eager to give more for the benefit of their workplace and their colleagues.
The Essentials of Disconnecting
The essence of a real break is complete disconnection from work and attending to the other side of the harmony equation: personal life. This means your employee should not be bothered with calls about work issues and should not be expected to check in to work accounts every now and then. Even if you think “So what, they are staying at home without much to do!” Let them enjoy doing nothing. Accept wholeheartedly that during a vacation, the employee will be out of reach and may even turn off the business phone. If employees are expected to abandon all family matters at the gates of the corporation, they should be granted the right to temporarily forget all about work until they are back to it. This disconnection is a stepping stone to work-life harmony.
Sometimes the need arises to interrupt an employee’s vacation even with a phone call. Don’t hold employees accountable in case they couldn’t rise to the occasion. Be appreciative in case they do. It is an indicator of their generosity, loyalty, and sense of ownership, not simply professionalism. It is the extra mile that you cannot expect someone to take unless you have provided them with the environment that empowers them to.
Lead by Example
There is a rich body of literature about the importance and how-to of disconnecting, unplugging, or switching off. Nevertheless, your employees will not be convinced theoretically; they have to see it practically, top-down, to embrace these results. This means that you set the example. Show your team that you disconnect from work and draw the line between work time and personal time; they will understand that disconnecting is a safe, welcomed, and even professional practice.
The world is changing. Tethered to our devices 24/7, everyone is stretched thin. Don’t watch your employees collapse; teach them to disconnect and relax.