- The ability to disconnect from work remains elusive for many professionals, according to survey data published this week by Fishbowl, a Glassdoor-owned social platform. The survey found that 54% of respondents said they were unable to, or did not believe they could, fully unplug from work while using paid time off.
- Older workers were more likely to say that they could not unplug, with 65% of respondents ages 45 and older and 61% of those between the ages of 41 and 44 stating that this was the case. By comparison, 47% of workers ages 21 to 25 said they did not believe they could fully unplug. Among professions in the survey, teaching and law had the greatest share of workers who said that they could not fully unplug.
- Reasons for the sentiment varied, according to Fishbowl, from “always on” workplace cultures to insufficient paid time off to fears that taking time off would impact career advancement. Others expressed feeling a need to perform tasks, such as checking emails, to avoid becoming overwhelmed upon their return to work.
Like many aspects of work, PTO received a jolt from the pandemic. In the middle of 2020, data from HR platform Namely found that PTO requests declined precipitously during April and May of that year. As a result, some HR teams scrambled to ensure employees were able to take accrued time off later in the year without negatively impacting staffing levels.
This development may have occurred in tandem with rising burnout. A 2020 Visier survey found that 89% of workers had experienced burnout within a year prior to the survey’s administration, and one-third of respondents said they felt pressure to check in during their time off while half said they were unable to fully disconnect. The blending of work and home life for remote workers have made these issues even more salient for this group, and HR professionals may face their own unique set of mental health challenges.
The confluence of factors has led some firms to adapt formal policies supporting time off. Earlier this year, Google expanded paid leave for birthing parents, nonbirthing parents and caregivers while also instituting a minimum vacation policy of 20 days, up from the previous 15. Fishbowl’s report indicated interest in unlimited PTO policies, but such policies may present their own set of issues.
Flexible work policies may further complicate existing worries around work-life balance. An internal analysis by Microsoft showed that some of the company’s remote employees were experiencing “triple peak” days in which after-hours work increased in the evening.
Burnout has led to broader discussions about what one Marquette University Law School professor termed an employee’s “right to disconnect” from work after their traditional work day has ended. At least one U.S. jurisdiction, New York City, has considered legislation that would protect workers’ ability to disconnect from electronic communications during non-work hours.