Can You Finally Unplug On Your Next Vacation? Better Question: Should You?

How you vacation depends on who you are–and sometimes on how much you like your job.

Can You Finally Unplug On Your Next Vacation? Better Question: Should You?
[Photo: Ishan @seefromthesky via Unsplash]

In an ideal world, your vacation would be for relaxing and taking time off from work, and that would be easy to do. After all, the career benefits of vacationing are well established. Research shows that vacations decrease stress and burnout, and the more you relax during vacation, the better you perform once you’re back.


But it might be counterproductive to encourage everyone to completely unplug from work while they’re vacationing. This notion is understandably taboo, but there are a few reasons why it might be possible–and even preferable–not to treat vacation like a total tech detox, and still come back feeling rejuvenated.

Great Expectations, Not So Great Results

Back to that ideal world for a second: In it, everyone who ever goes on vacation can just set an out-of-office message, power down Slack, and then use their phones for nothing more than Yelping the best taco shacks and snapping selfies all vacation long. But take one look at all the gobs of unused vacation time that Americans leave on the table year after year, and you’ll get a sense of how many people implicitly see that as an unworkable proposition.

Yes, the unfair pressures of certain work cultures and of overly demanding bosses can keep many of the most guilt-free vacationers office-bound. But for others, it’s the expectation that you’re only doing it right when you ditch work completely that can cause anxiety, stress, and feelings of guilt when you fail to do that. What if you love your job so much that it actually makes you happier to do some light work from the road than it would to go off the grid?

Worse still, the notion that the only way to vacation is to completely unplug might discourage you from even trying. The idea of having to catch up on unanswered emails or of falling out of sync on key projects might lead you to stay home–even when your boss is encouraging you not to. After all, research indicates that even when proper vacation time does pay off, its effects are short-lived, with pre-vacation stress and burnout levels returning after less than a week.

So if giving yourself license to check in on email every other day during your week away is what gets you to book that flight and actually enjoy yourself once you’re there, why not do it?

It’s About Personality

Your personality–the default behavioral tendencies and dispositions that make you unique–already determines your vacation preferences, whether you realize it or now. Unsurprisingly, people are happiest when they choose vacations that match their personalities. So if you’re more of a hedonistic, laid-back person who isn’t super career-driven, just be honest with yourself about that! You won’t have much trouble switching off and enjoying yourself. But if that’s not your personality, you need to be honest with yourself about that, too.


Maybe you’re an inquisitive, curious person. In that case, you’ll want to use your vacation to focus on your hobbies, learn new skills, or catch up on your reading–which might actually involve using technology and thinking about work. That’s likely to be even truer if your personality makes you ambitious, career-focused, and competitive–you may even want to minimize strict leisure time (like lying around on the beach) and stay connected so you don’t miss out on the news, social media updates, and any opportunities that might come up. In short, who you are determines how you should vacation.

No matter what they say, most organizations want you might think of as “spiritual workaholics”–people who, because they fit so well in their roles, are able to find meaning and purpose in their work, which in turn motivates them to devote lots of deal of energy to their jobs. Yet this ideal employee is often driven by dysfunctional personality characteristics, including compulsive tendencies, counterproductive perfectionism, neuroticism, and an inability to let go.

As a result, this type of person tends to sacrifice important aspects of their personal lives–not just vacation time but also social and romantic relationships–as well as their health, in the service of their careers. It’s okay to be career-driven, but it’s not okay to never take vacation. If checking in on work periodically helps you feel connected to what you care about while you’re kicking back, do it. That compromise might even help you train yourself to ease up on your workaholism in the long run.

Maybe You Just Need A New Job

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that while more people should probably be taking more restorative vacations, being able to easily step away from work might not be an unmistakable sign of a healthy work mentality. It might just mean that you just hate your job.

If you’re really craving a vacation–or lamenting the fact that your vacation will be over soon–take a second to think about why. If you love nothing more than shutting down your work email on Friday afternoon and feel mildly depressed whenever Sunday night rolls around, pay attention to that feeling. Being able to step away from your work is healthy, but avoiding it like the plague might not be.

Since vacations, much like weekends, are only likely to provide a short-term fixes to your work troubles, you may be better off getting to the cause of the problem and switching to a job you actually enjoy.