The Dark Side of Unplugging

Have you ever wanted to throw your phone into the ocean? If you answered yes, you’re probably not unplugging on vacation.

You’re not alone. Most Americans check in with work at least occasionally when they are away. Project: Time Off’s latest study, The Tethered Vacation, found that just about a quarter (27%) of employees fully unplug on vacation.

For many overworked Americans, the idea of an unplugged vacation sounds ideal, even mythical. There are droves of experts out there extolling the virtues of unplugging—enhanced creativity, better health, more happiness. We took a look at the purists—those employees who say they totally unplug on vacation. And it can be great.

But there is a dark side to unplugging. The truth is, some employees unplug because they don’t care enough—not because they are bad employees, but because they don’t feel supported by their companies.

The biggest differentiator between good and bad unplugging is company culture. Culture sets the context for engaged, driven, and how committed employees are. And a negative vacation culture—particularly when it comes to unplugging from work—is a big problem.

Let’s start by dispensing one myth: pushing employees to be on all the time doesn’t yield higher performance or make them more dedicated to their work. In fact, employees who unplug on vacation, but aren’t supported in doing so are less likely to say they are willing to work outside of normal hours when a project or deadline requires it (45% to 55%).

The real issue for these companies is not their employees being unplugged from work for a few days—it is being disengaged every day. Employees who unplug in cultures that do not support it are less likely to feel valued by their employer (45% to 57%), cared about as a person (36% to 55%), and that their job is important to the company’s mission (45% to 65%) than employees who unplug in supportive cultures.

These unsupported but unplugged employees may not be logging on to work email, but they may be browsing Where just 22 percent of supported employees are looking or planning to look soon, 36 percent of those who are not supported in unplugging are searching for their next opportunity.

You could just as easily flip those stats around and make the case that supporting employees in unplugging can help foster dedication, engagement, and talent retention. But no matter how you look at the numbers, creating a positive vacation culture pays dividends to employees and employers alike.


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