Should managers expect staff to work on holiday?

27 July 2015 -

“Beach Office

Is it possible for holidays to be totally work-free time or should bosses expect employees to continue contributing from Desk-on-Sea?

Matt Scott

Summer’s here, and many of us are hopping on planes and trains to escape the British drizzle. It’s time to leave behind the daily grind.

Or is it?

Modern workers, armed with smartphones and tablets, are finding it more and more difficult to escape the draw of the office, and many will be lured into checking emails and answering questions from colleagues while topping up their tan.

A CareerBuilder survey has found that 32% of UK workers check their work email while on holiday, while more than a third (39%) say they wish they had never taken the time off to go on holiday due to the mountain of work they come back to.

All of this opens up the long-running debate of whether or not managers should expect their employees to work while on holiday, or whether they should be allowed to switch off entirely to recharge their batteries.

Separating business and pleasure

Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV-Library, is firmly in the ‘enjoy your break’ camp.

“At CV-Library, our holiday policy ensures staff never feel pressured to check emails or contact the office while they’re away,” he says. “We have followed that policy since the business started in 2000 and it’s something we continue to adhere to.

“Holiday time is an opportunity for staff to switch off from work and spend much needed time with family and friends. We want our employees to come back feeling relaxed, refreshed and ready to excel in their roles, rather than stressed and feeling like they haven’t been given the chance to unwind.”

Biggins’ company ensures adequate cover from colleagues who pick up absent colleagues’ emails and excess work; “this avoids work piling-up while team members are off,” he adds.

Such a handover policy means that work still gets done while you’re away, according to Penny de Valk, managing director of HR adviser Penna. It can also be a boost for those left in the office, as they gain added responsibility for the work of senior colleagues in their absence.

“It makes for good teamwork, gets people to understand other people’s workloads and can be a development opportunity,” says de Valk. “There is a real appetite for people to pick up other people’s roles and give themselves some stretch.”


Mission-critical staff need to be connected

Sitting on the other side of the argument is MeetingZone chief executive Steve Gandy.

He tells Insights that ‘mission-critical’ employees need to be contactable in the event of a crisis while they are away or if particular tasks demand their attention.

Gandy adds, however, that this contactability needs to be as unobtrusive as possible and on the terms of the employee. A common convention is for absent employees to make themselves available for work calls and emails at a specific time of day during their holiday.

“Our attitude is that if you have to be in contact while you are away, make it as efficient and effective as possible,” he says. “It should not be invasive and shouldn’t be so that the employee feels they never have a break.”

At The Formations Company, chief executive Piers Chead has created an atmosphere that is non-hierarchical and encourages colleagues to ‘work for each other’. This means that workers are more than happy to be contacted while on holiday – as long as it’s only when absolutely necessary.

"By having that relaxed atmosphere we create the philosophy of everyone working for each other, not for one person – they want to reply and they want to help because of that philosophy,” he says. “That’s how any manager should approach this matter, in my opinion: by creating an environment where your employees are happy and enjoy working, they will naturally be happy to respond to an email.”

“But, at the end of the day, if they’re on holiday they should be able to forget about work for a bit and recharge,” adds Chead.


The legal considerations

From a legal standpoint there’s a definitive position, albeit with a  caveat.

“From a legal point of view, it is not possible for employees to contract out of their statutory holiday entitlement,” say Emmanuelle Ries, partner at law firm EBL Miller Rosenfalck. “Therefore, workers who are contacted by their employer on holidays could argue that their employer has refused to permit them to take their statutory holiday entitlement in breach of the Working Time Regulations.

“However, if workers choose to work while on holiday, although they are not required to do so by their employer, then they would not be able to bring such a claim.”

And de Valk says that ultimately, research has shown that encouraging your employees to take a break will bring the business, as well as your staff, many benefits: “All the data shows that people are more productive, more creative, more engaged and have more discretionary energy if they have good, regular breaks.”

Images courtesy of Shutterstock

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