HR News/North America

One in Five Employees Asked to Work During Vacation

35% feel an implicit expectation to work through vacations, leading to lowered productivity, heightened attrition, and a bad workplace reputation. 

By Zee Johnson 

Many consider the summer to be the perfect time to take a much-needed vacation. But some employers are saying no so fast. According to a new report by ELVTR, one in five U.S. workers say they are being asked to work while on vacation; the same amount say they get asked to check their email; and 25% are bombarded by work-related text messages. 

While some employees can easily toss their devices off to the side, others struggle with a sense of pressure and obligation to respond. In fact, 57% feel anxious if they don’t check their work emails while away, and 46% have trouble switching off during their downtime. 

Viktor Grekov, founder and human resources director at Oboard, says that with 75% of Americans living in fear due to widespread job loss, many believe they’ll face consequences if they don’t take on a surplus of work—even if out-of-office. “Teams are already down to their bare bones following last year’s wave of layoffs, so with no one to delegate to, those that remain pick up the slack in the hopes of preserving their livelihood,” he says. “However, it’s not always by choice. Some feel that they are obligated to stay connected, even if it’s not stated in their contracts.” 

And it appears to be a lose-lose situation—73% feel guilt while working on vacations, and 41% feel guilt if they don’t.  

Grekov explains both the short- and long-term consequences of encroaching on employees’ personal time. 

  • Short term: Workers suffer from increased stress and health issues, reduced productivity, and fewer growth opportunities.  
  • Long term: Innovation slows, turnover rates skyrocket as workers seek better work-life balance elsewhere, and employers get a reputation for disrupting their employees’ personal time. 

Further intensifying the matter is the fact that companies aren’t providing any additional compensation or incentives for work performed during off-time. “The harsh reality is that 28 million Americans don’t get any paid vacation time at all, let alone for all the additional hours they’re now putting in,” Grekov says. “With companies having cut over 500,000 jobs in the U.S. alone this year, it’s a bill that many are likely unable to cover. However, business is a team effort, and failing to compensate for hard work is a surefire way to curb productivity.” 

Ultimately, infringing upon employees’ time when they’re away signifies a poorly executed company strategy, and Grekov says that managers must take the lead in fixing the problem. “Businesses should make clear that they do not condone encroaching on employees’ time off by putting comprehensive policies and procedures in place regarding absences,” he says. “The responsibility then falls on managers to lead by example. Take your vacation, make clear who to contact in your absence, set your boundaries before you leave, and offer the same respect to your colleagues when they’re away.”

The fix won’t happen overnight, but businesses cannot afford to continue with the same, inoperative practices. “When faced with immediate challenges, like shortages, businesses shouldn’t lose sight of their long-term goals. Encouraging employees to sacrifice their personal time won’t save your business; you’re simply delaying the productivity loss,” he says. “Burnout ensues, productivity tanks, and deadlines are missed. That poor foresight doesn’t just affect a particular team but causes company-wide delays that can have detrimental effects on results and revenue.” 


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