Hector Hughes is Co-Founder, Unplugged – The UK’s original off grid cabin escape to offer guests a three-day digital detox and here he explains how companies need to do more to help employees recharge and how it is not just about giving them extra holiday.

Last week I had lunch with a friend who’d just got back from a holiday in Greece. He had a great time but said he couldn’t fully switch off. Why? Because he couldn’t stay off Instagram and emails. Every idle moment he’d reach for his phone. In this respect he is not alone.

Almost 50 per cent of workers check their emails for at least one hour a day whilst on holiday. It is driven by anything from a sense of obligation or fear of missing out, to pure boredom and a force of habit. The implications are that it’s harder than ever to switch off meaning for many, holidays are no longer the sacred time they once were.

The last decade has brought about endless technological advancements in the way we connect – personally and at work. We’re online more than ever, with over 50 per cent of UK adults now spending a cumulative 11 hours a day online, which is negatively impacting mental wellbeing. People are beginning to wake up to the health impacts that high screen time and the ‘always on’ culture is having on their happiness. Excessive screen time has been linked from everything from depression and anxiety, to poorer quality of sleep and lower self-esteem. You can only imagine what that does to our performance at work.

This has profound implications for companies. Much of the employee wellbeing industry barely goes beyond free office snacks. Serious issues are going unaddressed. With the recent rise of remote working and employees having greater flexibility, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to truly disconnect from work, with nearly 86 per cent of employees admitting being unable to switch off out of work hours.

Gone are the days where taking a holiday was simply enough. People are still working during their time off and it’s taking a toll on both their mental and physical health. But change is happening. Employees themselves have said they want to take breaks that improve their mental wellbeing or challenge them. People want breaks that add to their life. More than 80 per cent of Gen Z and Millennials are looking for a unique experience for their next trip, such as a yoga retreat or a digital detox. They want to try new things and expand their knowledge through experiences, not just a few days off to catch up with admin or an all-inclusive break.

Gen Z, who now make up 20 per cent of the workforce in the UK, are much more aware of mental well-being after witnessing their elders suffer from burnout. They require companies to ‘practise what they preach’ in line with their company values. Looking after their mental wellbeing is non-negotiable. Work-life balance and flexibility is at the core of their values when searching for and staying in, a job. So if you don’t value them, they’ll jump ship. Gen Z workers are much more likely to job hop than millennials so it’s becoming increasingly important for companies to offer better wellbeing support and flexibility in and out of the workplace.

A growing number of companies are coming up with innovative ways to achieve this. In the last year we’ve seen everything from company-wide weeks off to, in the case of Salesforce, launching their own employee ranch for time in nature. The benefits of nature are well documented. One study found that people who spend just 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don’t visit nature at all.

Since we first launched Unplugged, what has surprised us most is not the rising demand for digital detoxes in the last 12 months, but the companies using it as an employee benefit. We saw 20 companies add this to their wellbeing packages in the first couple of months of this year. Staff retention and employee happiness were amongst the most popular reasons given. Employees return from their escape more rested, more productive and more motivated to work. Happy employees mean a happy company.

By promoting a balanced lifestyle, companies can improve workplace wellbeing, boost staff retention and increase productivity. Happy and healthy employees are more motivated, engaged and lead to higher job satisfaction, reducing the likelihood of them leaving the company. When employees feel that their employer cares about their wellbeing, they are more likely to feel a strong sense of loyalty and commitment.

I, for one, am excited to see where this goes. Companies need to do more to encourage their employees to disconnect from work and prioritise their mental and physical health. Not only for the sake of the employee. Those who get it right also create a supportive workplace culture, improve their employees’ wellbeing, keep them happy and drive their success.