Medical Officials Are Begging You to Stop Checking Emails on Vacation

Don't do it! Here's why the habit is so dangerous.

email on vacation
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In a recent, unprecedented report, the World Health Organization and International Labor Organization examined the effects of “long-term long working hours,” compiling data for workers who regularly clocked in 55 hours or more per week between the years 2000 and 2016. The results were horrifying. Work-related stress increased the risk of heart disease and stroke by nearly 30% during that time, and now kills three quarters of a million people each year.

Most Americans sign up for a 40ish-hour workweek when they enter the workforce. That’s the expectation, and generally, eight-hour days are the practice. It’s easy to dissociate from reports of 55-hour workweeks. Couldn’t be me!

But when 55 hours are spread out over a full week, including “checking a few emails” on Saturday morning, or “getting things ready for tomorrow” on Sunday night, the number suddenly isn’t so outlandish. Consider, also, that one day a week — usually a Tuesday or Wednesday — where it takes a little longer to leave the office or shut the laptop. It seems like an anomaly, but can easily tack on a few more hours, bringing you closer to that total.

The X factor here, of course, is the pandemic. Americans have worked longer and harder ever since the arrival of COVID. Why? Various reasons: their jobs have gotten more complicated, they don’t want to seem disposable, workplace tasks are a welcome (if problematic) distraction from a difficult year. But whatever the reason, it’s important that we all reel it in. Finishing tasks at 11 p.m. each night objectively isn’t worth losing a decade of your life.

One of the most effective things you can do going forward, beyond monitoring your week-to-week hours, is respect your PTO. Much of it likely went unused last year — though that’s par for the course for Americans, even in normal times — and you need to use it. As a country, we’re leaving billions in benefits on the table every year. Just as important, when you’re on vacation, actually be on vacation. Forbid yourself (and recruit a spouse, child or friend to enforce this, if truly necessary) from logging into Gmail, Slack or Zoom.

Numerous studies have confirmed that “regular and sustained vacation time is key to basic mental health,” while the benefits of a full reset from work best kick in after a week of unplugged days. Your prescription is simple: go take a long vacation. Detach and relax. Allow yourself to be “bored.” Find pleasure and pride in achievements that have nothing to do with presentations or spreadsheets. You can do it, you will be better for it, and in the long run, you’ll live longer because of it.

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