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(206) 686-4400 ext. 13

Henley Leadership Group Blog

Are You Working On Your Vacations?


I see you checking email from your lounge chair on the beach. What’s going on here? Aren’t you on vacation?

New research shows that one in five US workers were asked to work through their vacation this summer. Were you one of them? 

Over two-thirds of Americans continue to work on vacations even though it upsets their travel companions and families. I am guilty of this very thing. What I have told myself is that keeping up on my email and Slack communications reduces my anxiety and makes my re-entry easier. Apparently, I’m not alone in thinking that, because 57% of the research respondees reported feeling anxious if they don’t check their work emails while away. What’s more, 46% struggle to switch off during their downtime. 

But I’ve noticed that when I check my email or get snagged by some work problem, my heart rate elevates and my anxiety heightens. I’m no longer on vacation; I’m working remotely. Stress unpacks its bags and settles in with me at the hotel. Meanwhile, my team gets the message loud and clear that they, too, need to stay connected when they are on vacation. After all, the boss does. 

A study of 2,300 people by online learning platform ELVTR shows that 20% of employees are asked to check their emails while on vacation, and 25% are bombarded by work-related text messages while away. Another 8% have their leisure time disrupted via social media messages or phone calls during their break. 

In addition to those who are specifically told to check their emails while away, 35% feel an implicit expectation to work through vacations, and 41% feel guilty if they don't. 

All of his takes a toll on employees’ well–being. It’s time to stop the madness. 

Consider taking real time off. Move your email app to the last page of your apps on your phone. Don’t click on it. True time off means that you don’t engage with work — not via email or Slack or What’s App or phone. Not at all. You are on vacation. 

Here's the big why. Taking time off from work can actually make you more productive. A study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group found that professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive than those who spent more time working. 

The responsibility falls on leaders and managers who are willing to lead by example. That’s you. Take your vacation, make clear who to contact in your absence, set clear boundaries before you leave, and offer the same respect to your colleagues when they’re away. This will communicate a healthy culture that cares about the well-being of its people, and it will allow you to attract and retain top talent. In the war for talent, culture is everything. You have the power and the duty to create and maintain one of the good ones.  

The payoff is about far more than individual gains; it’s about preserving a strong, engaged pool of talent and, ultimately, cultivating productive work processes for the long term. Take a vacation. You deserve it. So does your team.

Previously published on Forbes