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Remote work makes it easier to take a vacation, but less than half of employees disconnect completely while they’re away



The combination of a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and major changes to how we work have rendered the last few years challenging for employees. The numbers back it up: Ceridian’s 2023 Pulse of Talent report found a vast majority (87%) of employees report experiencing symptoms of burnout in the past year. With the arrival of warmer weather in North America and the UK, many employees are turning their attention to time away from work to rest, recharge, and refocus.

With summer almost here, we asked employees how virtual work has changed holiday: their ability to take one, how they spend it, and whether they can truly leave work behind while they’re away. The answer: workplace flexibility is having a big impact on work life balance.

According to our latest online poll of employees in the U.S., Canada, and UK, conducted earlier this month on behalf of Ceridian by The Harris Poll, there are clear benefits to taking time off – but not everyone finds they can truly unplug while they’re away from work.

First, the positive. Most of those who work remotely at least some of the time (74%) say the ability to work virtually makes it easier for them to take a holiday from work. This is especially true among U.S. respondents (84%) compared to those in the UK (70%) or Canada (69%). Remote work is also changing how people take holiday:

·       More than a third (35%) of respondents say it gives them more flexibility to schedule travel so they can book cheaper transportation/accommodations or avoid busy travel days.

·       A third (33%) say it’s easier to balance holiday schedules with co-workers since they don’t need to be in a physical office to get work done.

·       Almost a quarter of respondents say the ability to work remotely lets them travel for longer periods of time (23%) or to farther away destinations (22%).

The importance of time away

This is good news because, according to the poll, almost everyone (94% of respondents) sees benefits to taking time off:

· Three-quarters (75%) say taking a holiday improves their mental health.

·       Almost half (49%) say it improves their physical health.

·       Many also say it improves their productivity when they return to work (46%) and job satisfaction (40%).

While virtual work has clearly brought some benefits to summer holiday, there is one potential downside that managers should be monitoring: less than half (47%) of respondents say they disconnect from work completely while they’re away, and that number drops to 41% for U.S. workers compared to 51% for UK workers and 50% for Canadians. For a workforce already experiencing burnout, not having time to recharge can have negative consequences.

Managers and HR leaders shouldn’t necessarily be mandating time off for employees, as dictating how employees spend their time can backfire, but they should communicate expectations clearly: taking holiday is a good thing, and managers will contact them directly if something urgent arises that requires their attention. Other than that, employees shouldn’t feel the need to check in while they’re away.

Time away from work improves productivity, but it can also create complexity in scheduling, controlling labour costs, and managing absences. Consider using workforce management software to track the amount of holiday employees are taking to alert HR leaders to potential issues before burnout sets in.

Affordability puts summer holidays at risk

We’re facing a challenging macroeconomic environment that adds uncertainty to this summer’s holiday plans. Of respondents who want or plan to take a vacation this summer, more than two-thirds (70%) say something may prevent it:

·       34% say travel has become too expensive due to inflation.

·       32% say they can’t afford to take a vacation.

·       17% say their job is too busy to take time off.

·       15% say there is no one to cover their work while they’re away.

It’s clear from our findings that the ability to work virtually helps give people the flexibility they need to take time away. But it’s not enough for people to be away from their workstations. For organisations to improve the employee experience and prioritise work-life balance, they need to modernise holiday policies and create space for employees to take time away in the manner that works best for them. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. The survey findings show that employees have different ways of recharging whether by disconnecting completely or mixing work and holiday into a single trip.

For organisations looking to create a modern, flexible holiday strategy that encourages employees to take time away, here are some things to consider:

1.     Understand your organisation. An effective change management strategy is key. Clearly communicate to employees why you are making this change, and what the expectations are. Providing clarity and honesty will build trust with your leaders and employees and lay the foundation for success. It’s also important to understand how work gets done, so coverage strategies and workforce optimisation are built into the planning process.

2.     Normalise time away. Get buy-in from leaders from the start because they will be the primary advocates for change. Help your leaders understand how these new flexible policies will make it easier to achieve their business objectives, not harder. Executive buy-in is key because they will need to set expectations with their teams, encourage time away, create a culture where employees feel free to disconnect, and arrange work coverage instead of letting it fall to the employee going on holiday.

3.     Monitor progress. It’s not enough to implement a flexible holiday strategy. It’s important to monitor the data to make sure the program is working the way it was intended. First, understand how you measure productivity across departments, and get a baseline to track how it is affected by new policies. Second, measure utilisation. Are people taking time away? If not, why? Interestingly, moving to unlimited time off often leads to people taking less holiday, not more. Think of ways to encourage people to take time away and communicate the importance of unplugging.

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