DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Employment

FOSO is the new FOMO: Why are we so afraid to switch off and be out of office?

Britain has a problem switching off from work, what can be done about it?

Illustration: Big Issue

FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out, has led me to do things I’d never normally do. That plants a seed in your brain, encouraging you to do new things, stay out later, travel here or there to see this or that. Ignoring some of my wilder nights, FOMO is mostly a good thing, constantly imploring us to get out our comfort zone and live life to the fullest.  

You might think, as we transition into summer, FOMO will be heightened, with more people dreaming of beer gardens, cocktail parties and music festivals. You’d be wrong. Because it’s being replaced with something much worse. FOSO. The Fear of Switching Off.  

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

New research published in business productivity brand iCompario’s Right to Switch Off report has found that a staggering two-thirds of Brits – just under 10 million people – feel ‘immense’ pressure to check in with work when taking time off. You’re out with friends and an email comes in from your boss. You’re lazing on the beach, finally taking a break, and a colleague texts with a question.

The guilt of being out of office has left many struggling to switch off and the research shows workers can only ‘truly’ forget work after six days away from the workplace – but with people only taking between three and eight days of holiday at a time, we’re never getting any rest. 

Worse than working on holiday, many Brits are now taking fewer holidays to work more. 

In their Annual Leave Report 2024, PeopleHR found that annual leave taken across the UK dropped by 7.67% over the past year, falling almost 12% since 2020 from an average of 38 days per employee to only 34. That means a meagre 13% of our lives each year is spent out of work – that’s including weekends, bank holidays, public holidays and annual leave. That’s not exactly a healthy work/life balance.

So what’s keeping us in the office, afraid to switch off from work? According to MBACP-certified counsellor Georgina Sturmer, who specialises in uprooting the causes of stress and dissatisfaction, the blame lies in connectivity. “In the past few years, our boundaries have shifted beyond all recognition when it comes to our relationship with our workplace,” she says.

“The rise of 24/7 connectivity, and the increase in home working, has made it harder for us to feel as if we have a solid boundary between our personal and professional lives. We can be contacted wherever we are, at any time of day, leading to an increased sense of guilt if we are not ‘always on’.” 

Career coach Victoria McLean agrees, adding that constant connectivity has created a “conditioning by society to be constantly doing”. While many are understandably egged on by desires for a “pay rise or promotion,” a lot of the reason is down to “the weight of identity that we give work in our lives”. It is 87% of our lives timewise, so its importance to our identity is clearly outbalanced.  

Financial pressures are another big motivator. Sturmer explains, “The cost of living crisis has led to an increased sense of vulnerability and insecurity in the workplace. So, if we were already feeling under pressure to perform at work, this is likely to make us feel even more driven to work harder and for longer, to prove our worth and make ourselves invaluable.” 

Big Issue is demanding an end to poverty this general election. Will you sign our open letter to party leaders?

Whatever the reason, the outcome is the same. “If we are hyper-focused on work without regular time off, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, exhausted and demotivated,” McLean says. “This can lead to stress, anxiety, depression – other parts of our lives then suffer, and burnout can become a real possibility.” 

So what can we do? “Switching off from work starts with setting boundaries,” says McLean. “It doesn’t have to be a wholesale change in how you work – it could just involve being clear about when you send, read and act on emails, or making weekend working or travelling a hard no.”  

It’s not just workers who need to head the revolution, management and government also need to step in and set an example. McLean is interested to see whether the UK pushes through the Right to Disconnect Bill like France and Australia have done. The bill would mean, McLean explains, “Once workers are off the clock, they won’t receive, or be required to answer, any work-related calls, emails or messages.” 

In the meantime, it’s down to us individuals. Sturmer says, “If managers and colleagues role-model strong boundaries and good levels of self-care, this shows it’s acceptable for us all. And, in the long run, is likely to make us less stressed, more creative and more productive as we avoid symptoms of burnout.” 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Free bus travel could lift young people out of poverty and unpick cost of living crisis. Here's how
A bus on Manchester’s new Bee Network
General election 2024

Free bus travel could lift young people out of poverty and unpick cost of living crisis. Here's how

Rishi Sunak says people on benefits don't want to work – here's why that's 'wrong and harmful'
dwp protest
Benefits

Rishi Sunak says people on benefits don't want to work – here's why that's 'wrong and harmful'

'It's abhorrent they're still allowed': Why zero-hours contracts must be made a thing of the past
A young woman cleaning a table in a cafe
General election 2024

'It's abhorrent they're still allowed': Why zero-hours contracts must be made a thing of the past

Nearly half of brain injury survivors claim benefits – without enough support to get back to work
brain injuries
Employment

Nearly half of brain injury survivors claim benefits – without enough support to get back to work

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know