When OOO, Do You Unplug or Plug In? Here’s How To Actually Disconnect During Vacay

Stocksy/Kike Arnaiz
With August underway, professionals are preparing to swap work days for some well-deserved vacation time. While most are excited to cash in on their PTO, a growing number of employees admit they struggle to fully unplug from their day-to-day responsibilities. In fact, a Fishbowl by Glassdoor survey of more than 20,000 people found that 54 percent are unable to unplug or don’t feel they can while on PTO. Of those surveyed, 65 percent of professionals over the age of 45 reported their inability to unplug, while only 47 percent of professionals between the ages of 21-25 shared those sentiments.

Experts In This Article
  • Erica N. Reed, LCSW-C, Erica N. Reed, LCSW-C, is a licensed therapist, outpatient clinic director, adjunct professor, and trauma-informed leadership expert.
  • Kimberly Brown, Kimberly Brown is a career and leadership expert whose mission is to help people of color navigate professional work landscapes.

Though a person’s generation may have an impact on their willingness to check in or completely detach from work, there are a number of overlapping reasons employees struggle to disconnect from their role, including fear of missing out on career advancement, a toxic workplace, and, overall, insufficient PTO.

The professional FOMO stems from the narrative many professionals tell themselves, says Erica Reed, LCSW-C, a psychotherapist and trauma informed leadership expert. The current narrative tells workers there’s “so much to be done,” but she advocates for a shift in mindset. “It's not a healthy dialogue that we're having with ourselves,” Reed explains. “We need to give ourselves permission to pause, to take a breath, to acknowledge that we are being productive even when we are holding still; creating that new definition of what it means to get the job done.”

But how does one quiet the constant chatter and fully disconnect during vacation, particularly if you tend to stay plugged in? Well, the answer isn’t black and white.

“Once we start to talk about the intersectionality of your role, like the level of your role and the generation that you're a part of, things get a little bit more difficult,” says Kimberly Brown, a career and leadership expert and the founder of ManifestYourself.com. “It's even important to talk about where people are [in their career] because I think people sometimes forget and they haven't been at the level where checking out really becomes really hard.”

Whether you would classify yourself as an unplugger or committedly plugged in (or a blend of the two!) there are ways to effectively disconnect (as much as possible) while on vacation. Here's how.

Access how frequently you will need to check in, if at all

As you plan out your workload prior to your vacation, assess how likely it’ll be for you to unplug from work. Reed recommends creating a checklist well before your last day at work. "Outline the things that you have on your plate and their current status,” Reed says. And be clear, she says, about priorities. “Sometimes we kind of create emergency situations where there are none. Being realistic about what can wait until after vacation and what needs to be completed beforehand, [can help] a person better manage their time.”

But don’t put additional pressure on yourself if it’s a busier time than usual at your workplace or a project is taking longer than expected to complete. If you end up having to take work on vacation, you can create a realistic check-in schedule that you communicate to your team before taking off.

Establish both physical and tech boundaries

If you’ll be doing some work while on vacay, you can still have the experience you desire without the stress. That’s where boundaries come into play. Brown suggests factoring in physical boundaries, like minimizing the work items you bring on your trip and placing your laptop in a closet once you’ve hit your predetermined work time. With updates coming straight to your phone, she also advises removing work-related notifications from all of your devices. The balance can prevent burnout. “You're burning out because you don't have boundaries in the office, which makes it even harder for you to have boundaries outside of the office,” says Brown.

Understand your work cycle and season

Unplugging isn’t always simple, and depending on your professional season and industry, it might not be feasible. However, you can still work toward your goals and enjoy the downtime. Brown invites professionals to ask themselves the following: “Is this the season where you have to be heads down, do the work and it's a slow and steady grind to get where you want to be? Or is it a season where you really need to push to make sure you hit your goal to get that promotion?" To remain connected or unplug: that is the question. Naturally, your response will point you in the right direction.

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