With millions of people still working from home—and mostly loving it—there’s an overlooked casualty: time off.
Many people struggle to find ways to hit the pause button as they work in the new normal.
Juggling remote versus in-office work is part of this new balancing act. A recent study found that 58% of Americans now have the option of working from home at least one day a week, while 35% can work five days a week at home.
For the most part, many people like it.
When offered any kind of flexibility, 87% of people pounce.
Often, however, time off gets pushed aside—whether it’s a week-long family vacation, a three-day weekend or even a few hours after dinner.
That puts employees at risk for stress and burnout, said Adelle Cadieux, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Corewell Health.
Research shows working from home can add stress and increase loneliness.
The burden falls hardest on women, who often juggle more household tasks with paid work. Research shows they are more vulnerable to depression.
“If we don’t have some boundaries between work and home life, we tend to burn out,” Dr. Cadieux said. “That’s not good for anybody. It’s not good for our mental health. It’s not good for our family. And it’s certainly not good for our employers.”
She suggests simple steps to help draw clearer lines between work time and downtime.
Set a quitting time—and stick to it
In the shift to working from home, people are often eager to prove they are team players. It’s tempting to check email on a cell phone well into the evening.
For many, that sets an unspoken expectation of availability long after the workday is done.
Dr. Cadieux is a big fan of out-of-office auto-reply messages, which tell people when you’ll respond. She also suggests simply logging out of work email at a set time.
Sort out mixed messages
Even as many employers try to do the right thing and encourage employees to enjoy downtime, they can also signal they expect more—especially when so many companies are experiencing widespread staffing shortages.
Ask people about their expectations.
“Sometimes, simply saying to a supervisor, ‘Hey, you’ve emailed me a few times later in the evening. Can you tell me how quickly you expect me to respond?'” Dr. Cadieux said.
It may be that person doesn’t realize an email popping up on your screen at 10 p.m. sets off a wave of anxiety.
Commit to vacation plans
Because everyone is busy and hybrid schedules can feel more frenetic, it’s easy to be too casual with vacation plans.
“But unless people plan ahead and put it into the schedule, it often doesn’t happen,” she said. “They think, ‘Oh, I can take a few days off later when X or Y calms down,’ or, ‘Maybe I’ll do some three-day weekends.'”
That leads to unused vacation days.
“And that leads to burnout,” Dr. Cadieux said.
Take all your vacation days
Given the high levels of stress and uncertainty these past few years, guarding against burnout is essential.
The good news: The number of Americans taking a vacation is way up.
One recent travel industry study found 57% of Americans took a vacation at least 100 miles from home in the last year, up from 44% the prior year. That’s the highest percentage of Americans who reported traveling in the past year since 2009.
Treat everyday rest like a valuable resource
For people on the go, it’s easy to forget that rest is as essential a component of self-care as eating and exercise.
That includes brushing up on basic sleep hygiene to ensure you get enough sleep to restore yourself. Consider turning off all screens at least 30 minutes before bed, Dr. Cadieux said.
Practice, practice, practice
While some argue about the relative merits of a two-week, one-week or even one-day vacation, the point is that, occasionally, you fully disconnect from work.
For some people, it’s just more difficult.
“It’s a skill,” Dr. Cadieux said. “Like everything else, it takes practice.”
Remember that setting boundaries is an essential skill for self-care.
“You deserve being taken care of as well—not just the people requesting time from you,” she said. “Of course, they are important. But that doesn’t mean you should diminish your well-being at the expense of anybody else.”