Terri Morrissey and Dr Richard Plenty provide their thoughts on: The importance of taking a break from the digital world.


When was the last time you went on a holiday without your phone, iPad, iPod, laptop or other electronic communication devices? 

When did you last have a real holiday where you could switch off from work related issues; where you were not contacted by some member of your team or your boss; where you had to become involved in some ‘urgent’ decision, discussion, problem, procedure, people matter?

When did you wake up in the morning to greet the day, not expecting to see an email, text, tweet, diary reminder or red-flagged item?

There was a time when people who went on holiday actually went on holiday. Organisations had developed a system called ‘acting up’. This involved someone on the team, a potential successor or report, stepping into the holiday taker’s role. They took over the position and made all the decisions in the other’s absence. 

This system had a number of advantages:

  • It gave the ‘acting up’ person the development opportunity to operate at the level above them, making decisions, taking the responsibility
  • The system ensured cover for key operations
  • The ‘holidaymaker’ could ‘switch off’ and enjoy their holiday with their family and friends and return to the job refreshed

This practice is rare today. What tends to happen now is that people never ‘switch off’; they are on constant call; their physiological state does not get as refreshed.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang points out in his book The Distraction Addiction that our desire to remain connected at all times has become a stress-inducing burden. 

Other experts agree. “We have been seduced by distraction,” says psychologist Daniel Goleman. “We are being pulled away from paying attention to the things that enrich our lives.”

Intrusive technology has created a situation whereby we can be available at all times and in all places. The UK communications regulator Ofcom’s statistics show that people spend more time looking at media than they do asleep. 

Medical concerns are being expressed about the increasing adverse health effects such as obesity and diabetes. CIPD research shows that people have less downtime, are more stressed and experience burnout more frequently at work than in the past. 

What can we do about it? Well, why not bring back succession planning in the form of ‘acting up’ so we can take our holidays in peace; Bring in workplace policies to insist people take their holidays and ban contacting them except in an emergency; and trust those back at the ranch to cope!

By doing so we build organisation and individual resilience, enhance the talent pipeline and encourage true engagement and trust. 

As Seneca the Younger said over 2,000 years ago: “The love of bustle is not industry, it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind”.

About the authors

Terri Morrissey and Dr Richard Plenty are organisers of ACI's annual 'Leadership and Change' Summit and directors of This Is... They can be contacted at

Article originally published in Airport World Magazine October 19, 2015.

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