Skip to main content
leadership lab

Associate professor, School of Human Resource Management, York University

We are taking fewer and fewer paid vacation days per year. Are we less in need of rest, or is the work culture taking over our lives?

While North Americans in general have fewer paid days compared to many European countries, there is something else going on that seems quite worrisome for our well-being as well as our productivity at work.

Taking time off and fully disconnecting has become more difficult than ever before.

Most importantly, our need to be connected influences not only how we work but also how we take breaks.

One of the challenges facing organizations and leaders today involves employees’ ability to be present, to contribute and fully engage with their work. Not only are we constantly multi-tasking, but many organizations also report increased instances of overworked employees, whose health and well-being are constantly deteriorating.

In trying to address some of these issues, several companies have even tried to offer “vacation on demand,” letting their employees choose how long and even when to take time off, in the hope that this will increase productivity and engagement at work.

Thus, the question of how we engage with our time off and how we craft our resting times remains a major challenge. Studies in the area of work and well-being suggest that our brains need a certain amount of uninterrupted time away from work to fully disconnect and recuperate. Upon returning to work we also need time to reconnect and re-enter daily routine.

Quite the opposite seems to be happening in today’s work force.

Taking time off in little spurts seems to be the trend (i.e. taking a day at a time). This new way of resting may not allow for full recovery of our body and mind, much needed by the majority of our working population. The ability to fully disconnect and switch off all our devices also carries a certain amount of fear.

Expectations from employers have changed, and in many cases the established work culture carries expectations that we will respond to any e-mail, even those sent in late evening hours or on Sunday afternoon. These expectations have not only changed how we do our work, but also how we take rest. However, the question that leaders should address is whether we are doing ourselves and our workplace a favour by being unable to fully disconnect and take extended periods of time away from work.

Vacation is not only meant to recharge our mind and body, but also helps us to reconnect with others and ourselves, and in return enhances our ability to be productive and more creative once we are back at work.

Therefore, it is crucial that we understand how our work-life equilibrium functions. Our well-being outside of work often spills over to how we engage with work, and vice versa. In fact, our relationships outside of work also need nurturing away from it all and in an uninterrupted way. This is best achieved once we are away from it all and with little connection to e-mail or work in general. The ability to be present in one place at a time and focus on the now is what we have lost in our contemporary day-to-day routine.

Therefore, next time you plan your vacation days, please consider that you will be doing yourself and your organization a favour if you truly disconnect from it all and take more than just a day at a time.

We’ve launched a new weekly Careers newsletter. Sign up today.