When on vacation, make sure you disengage

June 29, 2015 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Aaron Schat, Associate Professor, Human Resources and Management

Make sure to disengage from work when on vacation.With school years ending and summer officially beginning, many people are anticipating their summer vacations. These may include day trips to a water park or zoo, weekend camping or cottage getaways, or longer trips to more remote destinations in Canada or abroad. Whatever the destination may be, a vacation at this time of year can be an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, and to recharge by having some time away from the demands of one’s daily work.

But do you know what you need to do – and perhaps more importantly, what you need to avoid – to ensure that your vacation recharges you, rather than drain you further?

You may be surprised to learn that there is a body of research that has sought to understand what conditions must be met for a vacation (or any break from work) to be beneficial. This research shows that activities that include relaxing, interacting with friends and loved ones, and learning and mastering new skills, enhance well-being, in that they “recharge your batteries.”

The research also suggests another piece of advice: Make sure you disengage from your work.

In an age of chronic connectivity, due to smartphones and other technology, the notion of disconnecting may sound ridiculous or quaint. But if your vacation is intended to give you a rest from the demands of your work, you need to physically and psychologically disengage from it. And that includes disengaging from the technology that keeps us connected.

Does this mean we should leave our smartphones or other mobile devices at home when we go away? It’s a good idea, if you can do it. But for most of us, this is likely not realistic because in addition to being tools of work our mobile devices are also used for many non-work and leisure activities. Thus, we need other strategies that enable us to disengage from work while still engaging our mobile devices.

Strategy 1:

Use the features of your device to help you disengage. For example, you could shut off notifications from your work email or from work contacts so that these don’t pop up on your screen while you are in sitting on the cottage dock or playing mini-golf with your children.

Strategy 2:

Consider temporarily moving your work-related “apps” off of your home screen to a less prominent location on your device, so that they are not right in front of you when you turn on the device. This should help to reduce the impulse to “just quickly check” work-related email or other information.

Strategy 3:

You will need to exercise discipline and actively fight against the impulse to check in with work. This will be more difficult than it sounds, because checking your work (email, etc.) on your mobile device is likely a pattern that you have repeated numerous times a day for many months or even years. Like any behaviour that has become automatic, you don’t even think about it when you do it. You turn on your phone and click the app. Breaking this pattern will be difficult. The first two strategies above should help, but in the end, it will require an act of willpower to overcome the impulse, and this will depend on you making a commitment before and during your vacation to not act on the impulse.

Strategy 4:

If you must check work-related texts, email or voice mail, give yourself a narrow window of time during the vacation, or if necessary, during each day. If you are vacationing with family or others, seek their input about what window of time would be least intrusive. This will ensure that you maintain both your connection to work and the good will of those you are vacationing with.


The strategies I have mentioned are directed at those who are taking the vacation. But there is also advice here for employers and managers. Although you may think it is helpful to have your vacationing employee remain connected to the workplace, you could be reducing the recovery value of their vacation and undermining their subsequent performance. Certainly, there may be certain jobs or certain times for which remaining connected is essential, but there are far more vacationing employees who remain connected than there should be. Do your employee, their families or whomever they are vacationing with, and your organization a favour by encouraging vacationing employees to truly disengage. Remove from them the obligation to remain connected while they are away and they will likely return more rested and a more ready to re-engage their work effectively.

So if you or your employees are taking a vacation this summer, give these strategies a try. Better yet, try using them on evenings and weekends or whenever you are technically off of work, even if you are not on vacation. You’ll likely find that your well-being will improve, both at and away from work.

schat-thumbAaron Schat is an associate professor and the area Chair, Human Resources and Management at DeGroote. Professor Schat’s research interests are in the areas of work-related stress, health, and safety.

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