Work & Wellbeing

Take a break: 65% of business leaders admit to checking work emails on holiday

5 min read

16 August 2018

Former special projects journalist

For small business owners, it can be hard to tear yourself away from your business – especially in the early days when you’re used to doing everything yourself.

It’s not surprising then that two thirds of business leaders admit to checking their work emails even while on holiday.

In addition, three quarters have had a work-related phone call while they’re meant to be taking a break from it all, according to a new survey from the Institute of Leadership & Management.

Yet while so many business leaders show such dedication to their work, they do not expect the same of their employees – 96% of bosses don’t expect their staff to check emails on holiday. In fact, 64% encourage their employees to switch off when they take leave.

Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management, said: “Thanks to modern technology we’re all more connected to our places of work than ever before. This means work-life boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred and we’ve become an ‘always present’ generation of workers.

“Checking into work while on leave has become increasingly common. Some people may find the stress of being disconnected from work while they’re on holiday is actually more stressful than keeping an eye on what’s going on – if only to rest easy that everything’s okay back at base. But we still know people need holidays, so they can return refreshed and invigorated.”

However, Cooper also highlighted that bosses need to consider what sort of message being “always present” send to the people they manage – will they also think they need to be “on” all the time?

“Good management is about identifying what environments and working practices will help you get the best out of each individual,” she said.

“If your team want to stay in touch with work while they’re supposed to be on holiday because it works best for them, then maybe that should be considered another element of the flexible working you offer?”

It may not sound like a pressing issue, but the expectations you put on staff can have an effect on their health and wellbeing.

A recent study from Virginia Tech, “Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being”, found that such expectations of email monitoring during non-work hours can be detrimental to staff. It can result in anxiety, and ultimately effect employee health.

What’s more, the study found that it’s not just actual time working out of hours that contributes to stress – even the employer expectation alone that their staff will be available outside of work hours can be harmful.

This re-iterates Cooper’s point: if the boss is always online, and their employees can see that, will they feel the expectation also lies with them to put in the extra hours?

Darren Hockley, co-founder and MD of eLearning specialist DeltaNet International, has different levels of expectations for himself and for his staff.

“As a business owner, I’m invested in the company. The unusual hours I spend working are an investment in the success of DeltaNet, which is also my success. In return, I can afford to be quite agile with my work. If I can be flexible, then I can still make time for the important things like family time,” he explained.

“I think it would be unreasonable to expect the same from my staff. Of course, I want employees to be passionate about their work and feel engaged, but they don’t have the same level of investment in the business as I do. As such, they are under no obligation to sacrifice their free time to it.”

It’s worth thinking about how you can send the right message – perhaps if you really can’t tear yourself away, it would be worth scheduling messages, so that employees only receive them during working hours.