Two thirds of employees admit working during time off, People Management poll finds

Separate research reveals one in five people take work devices on holiday as experts warn of blurred lines between jobs and home

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A poll of People Management readers has found that two thirds (66 per cent) of more than 1,500 respondents frequently work on their time off, with just a third (34 per cent) saying they do not. 

The findings come as separate research by Forbes Advisor discovered more than half (53 per cent) of people have had to work during time off in the past 12 months.

On average, those who are working while on annual leave are spending two-and-a-half hours per day on work-related matters, the survey of 2,000 UK adults found.

Half (48 per cent) admitted to replying to work emails or messages and a third (32 per cent) said they have completed administrative tasks.

A quarter (23 per cent) have taken their work laptop or phone with them on holiday, while one in five (18 per cent) continued to work as normal while off the clock.

Kevin Pratt, business expert at Forbes Advisor, told People Management that changing work habits following the pandemic may have blurred the lines between working hours and personal time: “The way we work has changed and expectations of both employers and employees need to change to match our new working circumstances.

“For employers, this means understanding that, just because people are at home, doesn’t mean they should be expected to always be 'on’ beyond their working hours. For workers, setting firm boundaries with yourself about when to check in can take the pressure off.”

According to the research, almost three in 10 (28 per cent) hybrid and remote workers felt they were expected to do more work while on holiday compared to office workers. In total, 64 per cent of hybrid and remote workers admitted to working while off the clock, compared to 44 per cent of office-based workers. 

“We’ve all quickly checked our email on occasion while we are on a day off, but what we are seeing is that increasingly remote workers feel the requirement to do so more often and on days when they traditionally haven’t done so, such as while away on holiday,” said Pratt.

It is up to firms to create a company culture that discourages such practices, he added. “Many people delete the relevant apps from their phones or turn off their notifications while taking paid time off, while others will leave work phones and laptops at home. These actions should be encouraged by employers, but ultimately any culture change has to start at the top,” Pratt continued. 

“If you know that your team is away, resist the urge to message them, even if it is just a message to be picked up when they return. 

“As the hybrid working pattern continues to grow, it is imperative that businesses adopt a new culture, which allows people time to switch off, as it will not only improve their morale, but also increase productivity overall.”

One in five workers (22 per cent) said they have worked while on holiday, either in the UK or abroad. Meanwhile, respondents admitted to having previously worked on Easter Sunday (14 per cent), Boxing Day (13 per cent) and Christmas Day (11 per cent). 

The most commonly cited reason (24 per cent) for working while on annual leave was that people felt “a responsibility to reply when a colleague messages them”. 

Additionally, 18 per cent said they “get stressed if they miss things while being away”, while one in 10 (9 per cent) said they feared not being seen as a ‘team player’ if they did not work while off.

Despite half (50 per cent) of UK employees admitting that working on holiday means they are unable to fully relax, three out of 10 (30 per cent) said they believe that this is the only way to stay on top of their workload. 

Gavin Hendrie, head of entity governance and compliance for legal operations at PwC UK, told People Management he used to work while off, until he was informed he was setting a bad example to junior staff. He explained: “As a former Army officer, I always applied a '24/7' or 'always on' mindset. It was practically a military expectation, but it also suited my servant leader style.

“After leaving the Army, I continued with it as a director of the firm I was in, thinking the same applied to those charged with running a firm. 

“Then an up-and-coming young associate director told me I was setting a bad example. Indeed, he thought I was even being a hypocrite: telling people to enjoy their leave and ignore their inboxes, while simultaneously failing to do the same myself. He had a point.”

Hendrie said this “forced me to look at myself in the mirror” and he re-evaluated his position: “My then business coach told me there is a good reason airline safety briefs tell you to ‘put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others’. Frankly, I was burning out and needed to realise my servant leadership style was neither fully appreciated nor serving me in any worthwhile way. So I stopped.”

However, he noted that he would consider working while on leave, but in specific conditions. “So long as it suited me, was absolutely essential or there was some recognition in it,” he said. 

Ceri Mallon, HR manager at Everun, added: “If there is a need to work regularly during your time off then something is wrong – with resourcing, with your development/management of your team, with gatekeeping information. Whatever the issue is in your place of work, fixing it is preferable to burning everyone out.”

Click here to read the results of the CIPD's Health and wellbeing at work survey