No matter where you take your summer holiday, if you’re a millennial, then you will likely be packing your inbox.
According to a recent study by HR consulting firm Randstad, 52% of millennial employees reported feeling compelled to respond to emails outside of working hours. Despite their ability to connect with the office while away, 40% of generation Y employees reported feeling guilty about using all of their vacation time, compared to only 18% of baby boomers.
Jim Link, managing director of HR at Randstad, attributes some of this generational difference to the fact that millennial employees are in earlier stages of their careers and are apt to feel more anxious about appearing responsive. They are more hesitant to take time off for fear of missing out on career opportunities, he adds.
Baby boomer employees who have more seniority may feel a greater sense of security, Link explains. Therefore, they value freedom when it comes to taking vacation time and creating a clear separation between work and home life.
"If you’re young, you’re trying to show your value in an organization," he says. "The bleeding between work and life is also more pronounced among millennials. They’re also the group who are most comfortable being connected while they’re away."
The study also revealed that 42% of employees across the generational divide feel obligated to check in with work while they’re on vacation.
Although the study didn’t break this number down by generations, Link says anecdotally, both generation X and Y employees reported a great deal of satisfaction when they were able to check in on their email first thing in the morning while they were on vacation before going off and having fun with family and friends. "Those people would rather check email at 7 [a.m.] at Disney World than come back to 500 emails," says Link.
Link, a gen-Xer, says he feels anxious when he is disconnected from work email for more than a day, and he often checks in while on vacation. "What I’ve found is that I’m more relaxed and more comfortable and [my family] is more relaxed if Dad takes an occasional peek at his email," he says. "[When I know] there are no fires burning, I’m able to relax and have a better time."
It’s for this reason, Link says, imposing policies of email shut-offs after 6 p.m., or email-free Fridays doesn’t work. "There are those employees who get twitchy if you were to shut off their email access at 6 p.m., or if you were to tell them that their cell phone dies the minute they go on vacation," says Link. "Those folks who are used to this technologically connected world wouldn’t like that."
Around 67% employees said in the study they felt more productive upon their return from an email-free vacation. But should employers seek to limit their employees' connectivity while on vacation? Link says he hopes companies will take steps to create a company policy that considers their employees' work-life balance needs, but allows individuals to decide what's best for them.
Link encourages managers to set the tone that time away is important, but without the expectation that employees check in on work while away. This then gives the freedom back to employees to check in—or not. Checking email then becomes less about impressing the boss, and more about individual work-life management needs.
One employee may want to disconnect completely while away from the office. Meanwhile, a colleague, who feels anxious about returning after a week-long holiday to an overflowing inbox that will take them two days to get through, may decide to check in between beachside margaritas. "Whatever works for them is what we want to be able to encourage," says Link.