unlimited pto or workaholic? the case for unplugging this holiday season

As we head into the holiday season, I’m looking forward to a much-needed break. For me, the holidays are spent with family and friends back home in Florida, and since I work for a state university, it also means having a winter break. It’s a major perk that my job pays me to not work for 10 business days. That’s about as holly jolly as it gets. But as a social media manager, while I may not be “clocking in” and commuting each day to work, I am still always working.

I read an article from the Harvard Business Review called Emailing While You’re on Vacation Is a Quick Way to Ruin Company Culture. (They write awesome stuff if you’re interested. I would 5/5 recommend.) The article is written by Katie Dennis, the Chief of Research and Strategy at Project: Time Off, a “leading a national movement to transform American attitudes and change behavior.” In their most recent research, the group found that “just 14 percent of managers unplug when they’re on vacation. At the most senior levels of leadership, a mere 7 percent do. The majority check in with work at least once a day.” This article and this movement was fascinating to me. It’s a spotlight on the vacation crisis in America, which may be a bit dramatic, but not without consequences.

It prompted me to look at my own vacation and the ability to unplug. Luckily for me, much of our social media, particularly Facebook, is branded content—or content that aims to deliver, often very deliberately, our brand or identity. Much of that content is strategic and gets planned weeks or months ahead of time. I can thank Facebook’s ability to schedule posts for one less thing for me to worry about. With Facebook, I can anticipate holidays and schedule content appropriately, as well as use content I’ve stored up to fill in the gaps and give the illusion that our brand never sleeps.

For Twitter and Instagram, it’s a bit trickier. While I can schedule tweets, part of Twitter’s charm and appeal is its spontaneity and relevance. It’s the place everyone can sound off about what’s happening right then. Kind of hard to schedule. However, since our brand is professional and a higher education institute, we don’t live tweet many awards shows or react to the latest viral video, but we do try to provide content that is current and less brand-forward. Soft content—or content that gets our name in the conversation—can vary from a new bill passed at the State House or an alum’s latest accomplishment. It’s relevant to the legal world, but it’s not necessarily pushing our brand, accept that our name is by it.

These moments are difficult to predict so I usually have to check my phone daily. I will admit, this is a routine I complete regardless of my work. I remember to scroll through Twitter and Instagram the same way I remember to breathe. But there are times even I am eager to unplug, disconnect and just remove myself from the highlights of everyone else’s life.

When I worked in news these were called weekends. It got to the point where I had to turn off all notifications on my phone so I could live my life. During the week, it was 15 alerts from competing stations, newspapers and magazines shouting “breaking news” at me. I had to escape it for the weekend (even when my weekend was a Monday-Tuesday). But with social media, we all have this major FOMO, and to some degree, it’s justified.

With news, I spent an hour or so before I went into work catching up on what I missed over the weekend. It was all right there waiting to be read. But social is different. There are windows of opportunity to react, engage and respond, and “unplugging” can mean missing those moments. In big companies, brand platforms are controlled by teams of people, rotating through a schedule of being unplugged and being engaged, but when all of the social lands in one person’s hands (read: me), it’s sort of impossible to simply unplug.

Side story: I have one of those plastic card holders on the back of my phone. I absolutely hate carrying a purse. I can’t tell you how many people ask me if it makes me nervous to have my ID, debit card and work ID all in one place. What if you forget it somewhere? It’s attached to my phone. Trust me. I won’t forget it. My phone is an extension of my body. I go nowhere without it.

Back to Project: Time Off. It is not a movement created by lazy bottom-feeders, eager for anyway to make more and work less. These are people who say “work hard, play hard,” and believe that time off makes for a better work product. Their research shows that taking time off can result in higher employee performance, a more positive outlook in the workplace, increased mental and physical health, and better work and social relationships. It’s an argument it seems no one would dare argue with. So “what about the bottom line” you ask? We’re actually losing money. Read this stat from the project:

“Unused vacation days cost the U.S. economy $236 billion in 2016, due to lost spending. That spending would have supported 1.8 million American jobs and generated $70 billion in additional income for American workers.”

Case closed.

This topic is definitely less taboo these days. Many marketing or advertising agencies, grounded by the desire for creative fluidity and expression, encourage their employees to reboot, offering “unlimited PTO.” This puts the responsibility on the employee (but really the employer to hopefully hire responsible employees) to manage time well.

I fall somewhere in the middle. Hopefully airing on the side of “unplugged” verses “workaholic.” I will still check my email and social platforms daily, but it will be at a set time, and just once a day. In fact, during this blessing of a winter break, I plan to do that with my personal platforms too. So, here’s to sleighing the social world without fa la lalling into the trap of working while on vacation.

Merry Christmas from my horrible puns to yours.


Do you unplug for the holidays? If you’re a social media manager, what platforms do you use to schedule your posts? Comment below!