More and more, employees spend off-the-clock time working

Vacation, holiday, paid time off – whatever you call it, the meaning is changing. Managers and employees alike are treating scheduled time off differently than they used to, according to separate surveys in the UK and US. More US employees are planning to work during summer vacation, and half of the managers in a UK survey haven’t scheduled a summer holiday.

The main reasons: Workers are stretched thin at companies that have yet to return to pre-recession employment levels and insist on a leaner model. Meanwhile, mobile devices have contributed to increased connectivity. Employees monitor their phones for email, and according to the surveys, employers expect the workers to be reachable.

Sixty-one per cent of employees said they planned to work during their vacation in the US, according to a survey of nearly 1,100 by TeamViewer, a supplier of online meetings software. That’s up nine percentage points from the previous year’s survey.

Sixty-nine per cent plan to take a work-capable device with them on vacation, and 61% plan to take up to three devices. While supposedly off from work, the employees plan to spend time reading email (38%), seeking access to a work-related document on a home or work computer (32%), receiving work-related calls (30%) and text messages (24%), and being asked to do work by a boss, client or colleague (20%).

The bosses aren’t taking time off, either. Nearly half of 838 managers in a UK survey by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) have either not scheduled a summer holiday (36%) or have decided not to take one (14%), despite 88% of respondents agreeing that a holiday helps recharge the batteries for work.

One reason managers aren’t taking time off is the extra work they have before and after a holiday: 24% expect to work more than eight extra hours before a holiday, and 26% expect to work at least eight extra hours upon return.

“With the economy in a rut, managers are working harder and longer,” Petra Wilton, CMI’s director of strategy, said in a news release. “It’s about time some of them took a well-earned break, which will pay dividends when they come back healthier, happier and full of renewed energy and enthusiasm.”

Flexible scheduling and technology advances have helped employees set new work boundaries – with a wireless connection and a laptop, they can work anywhere. But this connectivity can lead to higher expectations on employees outside of traditional work hours. A Robert Half survey offered a few tips to help “unplug” from off-the-clock work:

  • Identify the “mosts”. Focus on only the most important projects first, not just the most recent one about which you received an email.
  • Be realistic about internal resources. Understand a staff’s workload, knowledge level and experience.
  • Avoid micromanaging. Setting a schedule for project updates is better than getting mired in details.
  • Practise the golden rule. Show respect for others’ schedules, including those days marked “time off” on the calendar, and that respect will likely be reciprocated.

About five in six employees in the TeamViewer survey say that having to work during vacation is becoming more common in the United States, but most are not happy about it. Here are the top predicted reactions to being asked to do work during vacation:

  • Do the work, but not happily (34%)
  • Feel that my boss doesn’t respect my time (29%)
  • Worry about the boundaries of my personal life (24%)
  • I would say no (22%)
  • Be happy to do the work (14%)
  • I would turn off my devices and ignore it altogether (13%)
  • I would pretend I didn’t see the incoming message, text, etc. (11%)

Six per cent said that, if asked to work, they would devote time off to a different kind of work: updating their résumé to find a new job.

Related CGMA Magazine content:

Can Productivity Rise When Employees Already Are Stretched Thin”: Companies that became leaner during the financial crisis and are struggling to stimulate growth may still need to create value through increased productivity. But the challenge is raising productivity without squeezing workers who are already doing more with less.

European Workers Win When It Comes to Paid Time Off”: The United States is the only one of 21 advanced economies studied for a recent report where the law does not guarantee paid time off for workers. Low-wage and part-time workers in the United States especially lack paid vacation benefits.

Neil Amato ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.