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By Spencers Solicitors

  Lynn Collins    
  December 20, 2019

“Christmas time, mistletoe and…work?”

Christmas should be the perfect time to grab a proper holiday break. It's the one time of the year, that the whole country seems to wind down completely, with many businesses shutting up shop on the lunchtime of Christmas Eve and not opening up the shutters again, until the 2nd of January, giving their employees chance of a proper break.

However, there will still be such people who cannot or will not shut off completely from work and will feel the inherent need to still be contactable, or to stay in contact with people over the Christmas break. For some of us, just because everyone else seems hell-bent on not working for 10 days and even if it is the Festive Season, with Bank Holidays a-plenty thrown in, it's just not enough not to prevent us from working through our holiday.

Worker at Christmas

Regus, the workplace solutions company, recently commissioned a 2,500 strong poll of workers to answer questions about whether they would be working during their holiday break from work and the stats make for disappointing reading. Instead of resting, 39% of employees said that would be working up to three hours each day, whilst on holiday and a further 8% said they would be working more than three hours per day. Of those surveyed, 25% declared that they would be operating on a slightly reduced “business as usual.”

Developments in technology, such as better than ever Wi‐Fi and smarter than ever smartphones, has led to a culture of people working outside their core hours where they would not have had the facility previously. You can work from the beach or pull a Christmas cracker with one hand, whilst scrolling through your emails on the phone, with the other.

But why? Is it an innate sense that absolutely everything will collapse without us to project manage thing? Perhaps it's a misplaced sense of our own importance that gives us the compulsion to dip in and out of work when we aren’t expected to be there? Do we need to let our clients feel that they can get a 24/7 service, something they couldn’t get anywhere else, even when this is actually rarely what they expect?

Surely it is more reassuring to your clients that you can go away and have time out of the business leaving it in the capable hands of your trusted staff and colleagues (and if they are not trusted then I would question what they are doing there in the first place!), coming back all refreshed and ready to hit the ground running again?

There is no doubt that for some people chipping away at things whilst they are away on holiday, may actually reduce the stress of having a potential mountain of work to come back to. However, there is evidence to suggest that employees that do not get a full break from work, are more likely to suffer from stress, possible burnout, relationship issues and possible break down of the family structure. Stress remains the primary cause of short-term absence in the workplace, and employers have a duty of care to ensure that they are not creating a culture of workaholics.

What should employers do to ensure people are getting the break they deserve over the holiday period?

The safest approach would be for employers to implement a policy that prohibits working on holiday. However, such a rigid policy is unlikely to be workable in practice. A better approach might be for businesses to encourage a culture of employees not working or communicating with work, whilst they are on holiday (except only in exceptional cases). In any case, this policy must be driven from the top down.

I have lost count of the number of times that I have told employees to 'forget about us whilst you are away', only to receive the response back;

'I'll be contactable if you need me’ and sadly I include myself as a serial offender in that respect...

Does working whilst on holiday really improve our standing at work?

The reality is that working whilst on leave doesn’t generate any more respect from anyone, and will no doubt only affect your quality of leave. In turn, that will cause you strife with the family, so next time you have time off, perhaps you might try some of these tips for making sure you can leave the phone behind and enjoy your break:

  • Plan ahead‐ move deadlines if you can, so you get them out of the way before you leave
  • Delegate! Your staff will thank you for it. For most good, loyal employees this will make them feel trusted, give them a sense of responsibility and in turn enhance their level of engagement in the company
  • Not everything has to be done immediately‐ evaluate the risk and say to yourself, 'what is the worst that can happen if it waits until you get back? ' You might be surprised at the answer to that question!
  • Be open about going on leave and completely shutting off‐ there is a trickle-down effect and you will instil a positive culture that respects work/ life balance
  • If you do have to be available, be strict, manage it carefully and limit the times you are available to 30 ‐minute slots.
  • Leave your gadgets at home, or even better, at work!

The Legal Stance

The legal entitlement to holiday leave, is intended to provide people with a period of rest from work. As Lord Justice Mummery stated in the recent case of NHS Leeds v Larner, the purpose of paid annual leave “is to enable a worker to enjoy rest, relaxation and leisure: it is for the protection of health and safety” and this is why pay in lieu of statutory holiday is prohibited except where a worker’s employment is terminated.

So before you turn to your laptop or mobile, think. What is the worst that can happen? If you are in management, what type of company do you aspire to be? If you are an employee, tell yourself - "it can wait. I'm not that important." Then get back to your mulled wine, Queens speech, family and/or friends post haste!

About the Author

Lynn is a CIPD qualified, experienced HR generalist and training professional with a wealth of experience in both public and private sectors who provides a pragmatic, common sense approach to dealing with HR topics across the whole of the Employment life cycle. Lynn has particular strengths around Employment Law, managing attendance and performance cases; discipline and grievance; assisting organisations to deal with change and coaching line managers to help them take the best approach when dealing with tricky employment issues. She has a thoughtful and adaptable approach ensuring her advice is in alignment with your company culture, enhances your service delivery and minimises risk.

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