Unplugging on Vacation – Are You Doing It Correctly?

The latest fad of WiFi-less hotel stays, campaigning as a digital detox, and "unplugged vacations" are on the rise. But the real question is can one truly unplug from phones, emails, and social media accounts, or does their professional life demand they be plugged in all the time?

A recent study by Asurion of 2,000 Americans found that they check their phones an average of 80 times a day while on vacation, with some checking their phone more than 300 times each day. That's about five times an hour – or once every 12 minutes while on vacation. Sales leaders are continually taking calls, setting up meetings, checking emails, and so on. They are often glued to their phones and computers, so what happens when they go on vacation? Are they able to actually unplug, or is that outdated?

Breaking Down the Terminology

Is there a generational gap or difference in terminology when it comes to unplugging on vacation?

There are many definitions of the term unplugged or unplugging. Dictionary.com defines it as "to refrain from using digital or electronic devices for a period of time." Whereas Urban Dictionary defines it as, "To take yourself off any social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc. for a few days. To unplug the computer and enjoy real-life interactions with live people such as your family and friends. To live life without computer-related devices.” They are similar, but it all comes down to how individual people define it.

Mike Braun, Pivotal Advisors Co-Founder with 30+ years of experience, defines unplugging on vacation as, "I unplug from scheduled meetings or only take on 1-2 meetings when it's convenient for my "fun" schedule. The fun comes first, but if there's downtime like at night or before everyone is awake, I'll get some work done.

I feel like I have to stay connected in order to not hold people up, and I may need to respond to a client or a prospect with an urgent need. If I don't, I fall so far behind it's a burden to catch up when I get back."

Business Owners can't Unplug

In this case, Mike, like many other owners can't fully unplug. A survey by Staples found that half of the small-business owners, about 48% miss summer vacations due to a fear of unplugging. This same survey also revealed that even when these owners do take a vacation, 45% find it hard to relax because they constantly think about how their businesses are doing.

If you move from the owner and focus on the sales leader or sales manager, there was an overwhelming opinion of, "I focus on my downtime and be present with the people I am with. But if there is something urgent or my team needs something right away, like pricing then, I would respond."

According to a survey done by HubSpot David Appleby, channel account manager at HubSpot (Cambridge), responds to prospects on vacation but not internal emails unless they're super urgent. "My OOO message says to expect 24 hours for a reply," he explains. "This lets prospects know that if they have something urgent, they should reach out to my OOO contact."

On-Call 24/7

Now, what about your salespeople? Should you expect your team to be accessible 24-7 when they are on vacation?

Workplace burnout is at an all-time high due to overwork, underpay, and too much technology and screen time. In fact, according to SHRM  95% of HR leaders said employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention. So, it's no surprise managers unanimously said they prefer that their salespeople make arrangements before time off. They want team members to get the most from entirely unplugging. But they also expect them in the case of a real emergency to answer a call. One scale a sales leader had designed for their team when they went on vacation was:

  • Email – responded when you see it
  • Text – get back to me today
  • Call – answer it's an emergency

A study by Wrike Blog supports people working on vacation, stating that 36% of men and 26% of women enjoy the vacation more — and feel less stressed during it — when they stay connected work-wise and check in to ensure things are running smoothly.

What are the Standards?

So, what is the standard while on vacation? Who designs it?

According to U.S. Travel Association, "A total of 768 million vacation days went unused in 2018, a 9% increase from 2017." You have owners still taking calls every day, sales leaders checking in daily, and salespeople answering emergencies. So how do you go about setting up what unplugging means to your team or company?

There are specific jobs that are difficult to get away from for a long time versus other jobs where you have someone at the company who can take over your responsibilities. We think in the world of sales, it's really REALLY hard to fully unplug, so with that in mind, set the expectation early. Have the conversation when you're interviewing for the position.

The same Wrike Blog survey explains that managers who want to encourage a healthy work/life balance should consider the example they set on their own vacations. 45% of millennials are much more likely than about 33% Gen-X and Boomers to work on vacation if their bosses do. Keep in mind how responsive you want your team to be while on vacation.

Think about when you first started in your current position. What was the pre-negotiated deal for working on time off? Did the owner say, "as a sales leader, you can take a week off, but you have to check your email every day and respond to urgent matters?" Or did they say, "as a salesperson, you can take a week off, and we'll have someone take over your accounts while you're gone."

The clear understating of "yes, you can sneak out early, but you can't fully unplug while on vacation” needs to be stated earlier on in the professional relationship. Friction is strongest when the boss or manager didn't set that expectation or was silent on that topic.

In The End

Is working on vacation a generational thing? Is it a position or role thing? Or is it a company standard thing? There is a huge cross-over with both the role and specific generations; however, it's up to the company, and you as the leader, to make the expectations clear and known. The sooner into the role, the better. If you don't have those clarified with your team, this is a perfect time to talk about it.

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