Most professionals feel that they cannot completely disconnect from work, even during PTO


Diving brief:

  • The ability to disconnect from work remains elusive for many professionals, according to survey data released this week by Fishbowl, a social platform owned by Glassdoor. The survey found that 54% of respondents said they were unable or did not think they could fully disconnect from work while using paid time off.
  • Older workers were more likely to say they could not unplug, with 65% of respondents aged 45 and over and 61% of those aged 41-44 saying this was the case. By comparison, 47% of workers aged 21 to 25 said they didn’t think they could fully unplug. Of the occupations in the survey, teaching and law had the largest share of workers who said they could not fully unplug.
  • The reasons for this sentiment ranged, according to Fishbowl, from “always on” work cultures to insufficient paid time off to fears that time off is impacting career advancement. Others expressed the need to complete tasks, such as checking email, to avoid being overwhelmed when they return to work.

Overview of the dive:

Like many aspects of the job, PTO has received a jolt from the pandemic. In mid-2020, data from the HR platform A savoir revealed that PTO requests has precipitously declined in April and May of this year. Therefore, some HR teams scrambled to ensure that employees could take accrued leave later in the year without negatively impacting staffing levels.

This development may have occurred in parallel with the increase in burnout. A 2020 Visier survey found that 89% of workers had experienced burnout in the year before the survey was administered, and a third of respondents said they felt the pressure to check in in their free time while half said they were unable to completely disconnect. The reconcile work and family life for remote workers have made these issues even more important for this group, and HR professionals may face their own unique set mental health issues.

The confluence of factors has led some companies to adapt formal policies favoring time off. Earlier this year, Google expanded paid time off for biological parents, non-biological parents and caregivers, while instituting a 20 day minimum vacation policyup from the previous 15. The Fishbowl report indicated an interest in unlimited PTO policies, but these policies may present their own set of problems.

Flexible work policies can further complicate existing concerns about work-life balance. Internal Microsoft analysis showed that some of the company’s remote employees were experiencing “triple peak” days in which after-hours work has increased In the evening.

Burnout has led to broader discussions about what a Marquette University law school professor called “right to disconnect” from work after the end of their traditional working day. At least one US jurisdiction, New York City, has considered legislation that protect the ability of workers to disconnect electronic communications outside working hours.


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