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Out of office: The need for time off

Workloads are surging, and remote workers are especially burdened. Disconnecting from work is essential for employee wellbeing.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened. But after two years of the pandemic, my workload feels like it’s back up to the level it was at before 2020, possibly even higher. 

That increased workload combined with working from home — where it’s harder to separate work from the rest of your life — is creating stress for many people globally. Overall, 67% of all workers are experiencing stress at least once per week, up from 62% before the pandemic, the ADP Research Institute (ADPRI) found in its new report People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View.

And the research supports the idea that people are working more when they work from home. ADPRI found that people who work from home are giving their employers an extra 8.7 hours of work per week over their expected paid hours, while people working on site average 6.5 hours. And people who work remotely are more likely to be considering major career changes:

Workers who have

How much overtime a person is willing to work has a lot to do with company culture and local culture. Being born and raised in the United States, I understand the morbid sense of duty held by many people with salaried jobs: the feeling that you should always be reachable, no matter the scenario.

But after moving to Germany five years ago, I’ve come to appreciate how seriously Germans take their vacations. Companies and the employee works councils are fiercely protective of their employees’ home lives, in some cases making email servers unavailable after a certain hour. HR partners hound workers with outstanding PTO to remind them to use all of their vacation days. Americans sometimes joke about how nobody in Europe works in August — and truly, some people take the entire month off and declare email bankruptcy upon their return. ​​

And that’s a beautiful thing. If we never really disconnect from our jobs, it’s impossible to fully recharge and to give 100% when we’re working. Encouraging employees to disconnect when taking time off has to be built into company culture. Workers at companies with unlimited paid time off in some cases end up taking fewer days off than they would have with set holiday allowances. Companies that are really invested in their employees’ wellbeing normalize using paid time off and make it possible for workers to fully disconnect. 

And I need to listen to my own advice: Editing this issue of the Quarterly made me realize I should be more protective of my own time off. So if you email me this August, you may well get my out of office message.

Grace Dobush

Based in Berlin, Grace Dobush is the editor of the ReThink Quarterly. She has written for publications including Fortune, Wired, Handelsblatt and Quartz.