How to help your staff switch off when they check-in

28 July 2015 -


With the holiday season upon us, many workers are wondering if they’ll be able to completely disconnect from office life. Here are some innovative ways businesses are helping their staff switch off and relax

Jermaine Haughton

A London-based HR consultancy has begun switching off the emails of staff members on annual leave so that they can’t be disturbed on holiday.

Purple Cubed believes the initiative will also prevent workers returning to the office confronted by a mountain of work that has built up during their time off. The firm’s people director Emily Moore says the move allows staff to enjoy their annual leave and return to work fully refreshed and ready to excel in their roles.

“We want our people to go on holiday and come back fully rested, refreshed and enthusiastic; without feeling that they need to keep on top of things while they are away, or having to fear the fit-to-burst inbox which requires two days clearance when they return,” explains Moore.

“Sadly though, the volume of emails that individuals received every day seemed to be at an all-time high. While we have internal guidelines to reduce this, for example only copying people into an email when necessary, there’s still a tendency for clients and suppliers to ‘cover all bases’.

“The only solution was to switch off emails when people are on annual leave ensuring they could really enjoy their downtime and being with friends and family,” she adds.

“HolidaysCMI” style=

Always on my mind

Almost three-quarters of holidaymakers think about their job while on holiday – for an average of 41 minutes per day – according to recent research by car rental firm Auto Europe. Over the course of a 10-day holiday, employees will spend seven hours, almost a working day, thinking about their work responsibilities(!)

This inability to switch off exposes staff to health and personal problems, such as stress, depression and relationship break-ups. Companies are aware that the negative impacts associated with burnout and stress are likely to increase sick leave and unplanned absenteeism in the workplace. These issues can be countered by having a flexible and reliable team of workers to cover for the required staff member.

“Having a capable team of directors and team members makes this easier and the way in which we are set up means there is always an alternative person who can be forwarded an email and answer any queries,” says Moore. “We make sure this individual is named within the out of office message; though so far only one email has been forwarded on – and that was when our CEO went on holiday recently.

“By having great teams who support one another, it provides excellent development for people, giving them opportunities to step up to the challenge, which they enjoy, and it also makes them feel trusted to deal with things.”

The prioritisation of the staff work-life balance is not just a major issue for British firms. Across the Channel, French trade unions representing workers in the technical and digital sectors have an agreement with employers preventing bosses from contacting employees once their contracted daily working hours have ended.

“VacationCMI” style=

Flexing the working day

Worth £11.5bn to the UK economy, the increase in flexible working opportunities has boosted staff morale while potentially adding 4.7% to the GDP. According to a Glassdoor survey, almost one-fifth of UK employees are set to apply for flexible working at their job.

Ben Black, director of employee engagement company My Family Care, tells Insights that flexible working is just the start, with further active support from employers needed for workers with dependants. “The best employers have understood that flexible working is a reality. They don't just accept it, they also give it a big warm hug,” he says. “Employees are measured on performance and results rather than face time in the office. It's about productivity rather than presentee-ism.

“Firstly [bosses] can find a way to support school holiday cover for all their employees with children.  There are some great, and ever improving school holiday clubs throughout the UK.  On any given day, for example we will have 500 employees at a selection of 2000 holiday clubs across the UK paid for in whole or in part by the employer.

Black recommends that other companies follow suit and offer support for employees when it is needed. My Family Care currently pays or part pays for the children of 500 employees to attend holiday clubs to ease the burden of childcare during school holidays.

But Black says it is important that similar benefits are extended to employees without young families, such as providing support to employees caring for elderly relatives.

Three other ways employers can help staff unwind away from the office:

Unlimited holidays

Recently implemented by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, unlimited holidays have been a feature of many careers in the start-up business community, including Netflix. It allows staff to take as many days annual leave as they want as long as their work is done and proper cover is arranged before they leave.

Pay employees to go on holiday

Planning vacations can be so stressful many workers say they wish they could request another break on their return from holiday.

In 2012, Bart Lorang, chief executive of the Denver-based technology company FullContact introduced "Paid Paid vacation", giving employees $7,500 (£4,800) to fund their holidays. There were three clauses, however:

  • No checking work emails, texts, or calls ·  
  • No working
  • Recipients have to actually go on a trip

Encourage digital detox breaks

From remote beach huts to wild forests, holidays disconnected from the outside world are increasing in popularity, with one travel company reporting a five-fold rise in demand for a digital detox break.

This may be the perfect get-away for employees looking to avoid work emails once they have boarded that plane.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock

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