Few things are more disturbing than a call from work to resolve a problem or a question while you’re on vacation. Although vacation is a right, the reality is that constant Internet access and the cell phone’s omnipresence make it increasingly rest completely. According to a survey that the InfoJobs employment portal conducted, one in four people say that they go online whenever necessary while they are on vacation, and other studies suggest that almost 40% of workers need two weeks or more to decompress from work.
From switching to a phone that only allows one to make and receive calls, to temporarily deleting work apps, to muting all notifications, anything goes when it comes to leaving work responsibilities behind. However, they won’t do any good if others don’t do their part as well. Your boss and colleagues must allow you to disconnect from work.
In digital or hybrid environments where the workday is organized remotely, getting away from work is much more complicated. Employees often feel like they are always connected. And it’s not just a feeling; according to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), people who telecommute regularly are more likely to exceed their maximum weekly hours.
For this reason, some companies have increasingly committed to establishing protocols and tools that positively impact labor management. One example is Fresh People, a human resources consulting firm for technology startups. José Burgos, the Fresh People’s co-founder and CEO, believes that it is essential to “generate team awareness through training as well as by understanding the impact of not respecting people’s vacations and their right to rest,” he explains. “We have studies that show very persuasively that it is just as important to spend time fully connected to work as it is to spend time resting. Just as elite athletes already do by fully respecting training, competition, and rest times, we must understand that something similar happens with people [in other professions].”
That’s why Burgos encourages companies to plan prior to the months when everyone usually takes vacation. “You can’t be resolving this issue at this time of the year; this should have happened much earlier: how the company culture works, the structure of objectives, jobs, teams... All of that has a direct impact on managing people. If you don’t do that, you’re probably going to have many more problems.”
Along with digital work tools, having a job with a lot of responsibility or being self-employed is another reason why people can’t disconnect or delegate during vacations. According to InfoJobs data, men between 45 and 65 years old who work for themselves or have a leadership position fit the profile of those who disconnect from work the least. Moreover, a 2021 survey conducted by the National Federation of Self-Employed Workers (ATA) revealed that 42% of self-employed people could not go on summer vacations; of those who did manage to do so, 85% did not stop working for more than 15 days.
For example, Claudia López, who freelances as the head of a food safety company, does not know what it feels like to disconnect completely. She tries to warn her clients so that they respect her rest as much as possible, but it is not always feasible.
“I think that if I worked as a [regular] employee, I would totally disconnect, but for a freelancer it is very difficult. In the end, my computer and cell phone are always with me, it’s like carrying my work on my back, and I take advantage of different times to do pending work,” says López. “On many occasions, I prefer it that way to being overloaded with work. I prefer to distribute my tasks and then alternate days of rest and work. I do try to make sure that I take at least one week a year to disconnect completely.”
The same is true for Patricia Vicente, who works in civil service and has a leadership position. “I can’t delegate my functions to other people, so there is always the possibility that I will have to solve some issue over the phone from my vacation spot. So, we organize ourselves to enjoy our vacation in August, when there is less work and everything is quieter,” explains Vicente. In these cases, ifeel psychologist Rafael San Román notes that each person must evaluate what it means to answer the calls or not. “Perhaps, because of labor relations or the work environment, it may be worse not to answer a call at a specific moment than to respond. Because if you don’t answer, you’re going to have to deal with the issue when you get back anyway. But it depends a lot on the situation and each person’s circumstances as well as the position he or she holds.”
However, San Román also points out that, whenever possible, we must “be aware that it is essential to rest and disconnect in order to be able to perform well. Rest is an issue that we must take seriously and be disciplined about.” Héctor Mata, the co-founder and CEO of Shakers (a platform that connects freelance workers with companies), has organized several conferences on the future of work and the keys to achieving work-life balance. He says that it is advisable for companies to guarantee everyone’s optimal rest by “making an action plan before the person goes on vacation to determine what is (and is not) urgent and how to get through the most pressing issues. Once we have decided what we consider is important and what is not, we must know how to act before chaos occurs; if it is a crucial matter, contact the colleague on vacation so that he or she can act. However, this would [only] be in a very extreme case. Few matters are so urgent that we must contact our colleague[on vacation].”
* Some of the names of the people interviewed in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.