Skip links

Don’t be tempted to work on holiday!

This is a topical and timely subject, because I’ve just enjoyed a lovely summer holiday with my family. You’re not interested in that, but I think you will be interested in conversations around an issue that has, by pure coincidence, cropped up: the wisdom of working whilst on holiday.

Or perhaps the ‘wisdom of not working’ is a better approach. And yes, it’s probably not that big a coincidence either, given that it’s still holiday season for many of us.

Here’s a question for you… How has it become so ‘normal’ to keep working (or expect to keep working) while away on holiday? I experienced a bit of that myself this past month. I want to talk about that and share some tips on how to switch off from work on holiday.

During a recent meeting with a client, a large high street retailer, I learnt to my delight that its staff members are all furnished with laptops and tablets but are not permitted to work whilst on holiday. I was impressed with what I assumed was the company’s wellbeing policy. I was wrong!

Turns out it was all down to the finance department. The bean counters had noticed that it was costing thousands of pounds in data roaming charges as people checked their emails while sipping sangria on the beach. They pulled the plug!

I wonder how much more it’s really costing the firm in staff absence or ‘presenteeism’ because they’re not rested? I covered some of this in my blog last November on Resilience (I still dislike that word). I even mention the statistic that 40% of workers in the UK don’t take their holiday entitlement. Well, working while on holiday is essentially not taking a holiday too.

So here’s the thing about the aforementioned high street retailer. Data roaming charges no longer apply (at least for now…pre-brexit). Who’s going to monitor the financial impact on the company’s accounts and jump up and down now?

Talking about this ‘normalised’ behaviour, why is it that people feel they have to work (checking email is working, by the way) while they’re away? I wonder how much is motivated by our own need to feel important- and essential part of the machine? Heartbreaking to think the wheel won’t fall off without me. Or maybe it’s just FOMO? The Fear Of Missing Out? It’s real, sadly.

Whatever happened to July Fortnight? My dad worked in the textile industry for most of his life. He recalls a two-week period in July where the entire place shut down. Factory doors locked. No one missed out. There was nothing to miss out on.

You may find that curious. Or amusing in the 21 st Century. People assume that with financial pressures, customer demand, just-in-time manufacturing, Brexit, yada, yada… that it can’t possibly work in 2018. But it may surprise you to learn that it still happens.

I have it on good authority that the population of Glasgow apparently ups sticks and moves to Blackpool during the ‘Glasgow Fortnight’ (I may be given to exaggeration there). The Huffington Post, TED Talks, Adobe (all three businesses shut their offices for one week twice per year), Scania and half of Northern Europe do it too.

In my view, and it’s a professional view based on fostering good mental health and wellbeing, it has to stop. No more obsessing about work as we holiday – or even as we prepare to go on holiday.

An article in the Independent newspaper shared some good advice and pointed out that even the lead-up to a holiday can be extra stressful, with workers putting in up to two-and-a-half hours extra per day to ensure stuff gets sorted before they depart. Oh dear!

But more amusing, though not in a particularly funny way, is that the same article reveals that only one in ten people believe their boss actually expects them to carry on working. More than a third who choose to keep in touch with the office do so for FOMO. A quarter claim they have no one to hand the work over to, while three in ten don’t feel they can leave their work with others.

To top this off, it turns out that 27% are just so damned passionate about what they do that they simply cannot countenance leaving things alone for two weeks. A double-edged sword, surely? It’s great to see such commitment (as long as people are truly happy and not pressured) but I predict a slippery slope to burnout.

Want to go on holiday and wind down properly? Experts recommend booking longer breaks between 10 and 14 days duration to allow time for it. Check out the Independent article for yourself.

How about some helpful advice on managing your obsession, obligation, guilt, or whatever when it comes to dealing with work (or the temptation to work) on holiday?

I am grateful to the online publication HR News for a recent article on the subject that reports 23% of employees regularly check emails on holiday.

It offers some advice too. For me the key ‘takeaways’ from the article are the parts towards the end that address what to do if you really can’t “unplug from work”. It advises moderation and suggests setting strict limits on how much time is spent online, breaking this down into three sections: Commit, Schedule and Communicate. My interpretation of these categories below…


Stay consistent. Check once per day or not at all. Decide how to handle the inbox and stick with it. It’s confusing to receive an out-of-office message followed by a response from the same person shortly thereafter – that’s one I can identify with.


Set time aside to deal with emails and give them your full attention. Do it at the same time every day. Categorise by importance. Then you’ll know which to deal with first when you’re back at your desk. Or simply deal with priority ones and categorise the rest.


This is good advice: Don’t respond with questions. Just instructions. It minimises back & forth.

There’s also good planning advice on how to ensure you can unplug. Some of these are obvious, but a couple are quite ingenious.

  • Set your out of office reply and include the details of a backup contact
  • Leave emergency contact details for your own peace of mind
  • Delegate major projects
  • Leave your work devices at home
  • Log out of your work email or task management system
  • Mute your work chat groups
  • Set filters on your email to only allow mail from specific addresses (Nice one!)
  • Switch off work-related social media
  • Schedule any available times in advance

Take a look at the full article from HR News. It talks about how technology has facilitated a “work-life bleed” and takes an oblique alternate view on so-called innovations that don’t help us to unplug from work – things like voice search and in-flight Wi-Fi. Even I hadn’t stopped to think of it that way. Hmm.

Happy holidays, everyone!