When did taking vacation become a guilty pleasure?
Keeping Up With the Kardashians. A Snickers bar. That second glass of wine. Those are guilty pleasures.
Unplugging from work, on the other hand, is your shame-free right. Not only that, it’s good for you.
It’s proven that taking time off from work makes people more engaged and happy in their work (HRDive, 2018). And a study from Dale Carnegie found that companies with engaged employees outperform those with unengaged employees by over 200%.
All signs point to vacation being a win-win for businesses and for employees. So then why did over 705,000,000 vacation days go unused in the U.S. in 2017?
Yes, 705 million.
The problem is, instead of encouraging and celebrating flexibility, we glorify busyness. And busy people are too important to unplug.
Or are they?
The Problem with ‘Busy’
One of my bad habits is saying ‘busy’ when people ask me how I’m doing. Sometimes it’s because I actually am busy, but other times it’s because that’s what I think I’m supposed to say.
That’s what important people say.
That’s what my smart coworkers say.
That’s what people who get promoted say.
But being busy isn’t the same as being effective. Working long hours doesn’t drive better results. Never taking a vacation won’t lead to a promotion. So why are we so proud to talk about how busy we are all the time?
In 2016, researchers from Colombia, Harvard, and Georgetown conducted a study to figure it out. They found that:
“the busy person is perceived as high status, and interestingly, these status attributions are heavily influenced by our own beliefs about social mobility. In other words, the more we believe that one has the opportunity for success based on hard work, the more we tend to think that people who skip leisure and work all the time are of higher standing.”
That’s why we feel like we have to appear busy. There’s a real perception that if someone is knee-deep in meetings, emails, and stress, then they’re probably a big deal. And if someone is putting the ‘unlimited’ in unlimited vacation, then they’re probably on thin ice. (I’ve taken 7 weeks off at HubSpot since January and still lived to tell the tale. Just sayin’.)
Personally, I’m going to stop saying ‘busy’ when people ask me how I am. It’s self-righteous and sets the wrong tone. (And besides, talking about my upcoming trip to California is way more fun.)
Making It Easier to Unplug
Setting the tone for unplugging has a lot to do with not just how we talk about being busy, but how we talk about not being busy. Judging by most people’s out of office responders, you’d think taking time off was a chore. As a word-lover and vacation enthusiast, I cringe when I read boring, canned OOO replies.
Phrases like “I have limited access to email” and “I’ll respond as soon as I get back” make it sound like you’re being held against your will from working as opposed to making the most of your time off.
That’s why we recently launched the Out of Office Email Generator, a free tool to get personalized, witty, and guilt-free OOO replies. Use it before your next long weekend or trip to share loud and proud that you won’t be checking email until your back. (And hopefully, to get a few laughs from your contacts.)
Now, the challenge of unplugging (or not unplugging) is bigger than your OOO reply. We all play a role in setting the right tone.
Managers need to think twice about emailing their teams on the weekend and talking about how busy they are.
Leaders need to lead by example by taking time off themselves (shout out to my manager for taking her sabbatical this month and living her best life in Italy for a few weeks) and encouraging employees to do the same.
Our co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah put it best:
We all need to be better at making work/life balance a priority. So when you head home today, close your laptop and don’t apologize for it.
Balanced is the new busy.
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Let’s Stop Glorifying People for Never Taking Time Off was originally published in ThinkGrowth.org on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.