During the summer holiday season, a significant number of UK employees are finding it hard to truly disconnect from work, as a new study reveals that 67 percent feel pressured to check their work emails during their annual leave.

According to research conducted by iCompario, a B2B services comparison website, a staggering 76 percent of working Brits also feel the need to check their company emails even during other important personal occasions, such as when they are sick or attending appointments.

The study surveyed 2,000 UK employees to gauge the impact of work on their personal lives.

The research shows that men (14%) are more likely than women (10%) to feel obligated to check emails while on holiday, and this pressure is even more pronounced among individuals in CEO or business owner roles (21%).

An interesting finding from the study is that it takes an average of 5.7 days for UK employees to unwind and fully relax during their holiday.

However, those who refrain from checking work emails experience a quicker transition to relaxation, with 42 percent feeling completely at ease within 24 hours. On the contrary, 25 percent of those who constantly check their work emails throughout the day reported that they never feel entirely relaxed during their vacation.

A ‘right to disconnect’

Drawing inspiration from similar laws in France, two-thirds (66%) of the surveyed workers are in favour of introducing a ‘right to switch off’ legislation in the UK. Several countries, including the Philippines, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Slovakia, Ireland, and Portugal, have already enacted such laws, prohibiting employers from expecting employees to engage in work-related communications outside of regular work hours.

Megaphone.org.uk has taken the initiative to call for the UK government to introduce a ‘right to disconnect’ for all workers through the new employment bill, and the petition has gained nearly 17,000 signatures as of July.

One professional who has chosen to break free from the chains of work emails while on holiday is Cheryl Crossley, Head of PR for a Digital Marketing agency in Leeds. She used to check her work emails hourly during her vacations, but now she has adopted a different approach. Cheryl sets a clear ‘out of office’ message, removing work emails and collaboration tools from her phone until she returns home. She believes this practice has not only improved her personal well-being but also enhanced her team’s performance by instilling trust and autonomy among colleagues.

Why is ‘switching off’ important?

Medical experts emphasise the importance of disconnecting from work during holidays. Dr. Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy highlights that taking a break from work helps reduce stress, leading to higher life satisfaction, improved mental health, and even enhanced productivity upon returning to work. Stress can negatively impact physical health, causing issues like insomnia and fatigue, making it crucial to avoid responding to work emails during personal time.

To maintain a proper boundary between work and personal life, Dr. Lee suggests planning for the holiday in advance, handing over responsibilities to the team, informing clients about one’s absence, setting up an out-of-office notification, and disabling work-related notifications. She also advises designating a short period each day to check emails if it is unavoidable, and delegating contact details to a trusted colleague instead of giving out one’s own phone number in the out-of-office message.

The study’s findings indicate a pressing need for employers to grant their employees the freedom to switch off from work outside of regular working hours. With the pandemic’s impact leading to increased remote work and reliance on personal devices for work communications, ensuring employees can disconnect from work responsibilities becomes crucial in preventing burnout and supporting overall well-being.

 

 

 

 

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.