Australian employees most likely won’t get the break they need this holiday season, with eight in 10 employers expecting them to keep up with work messages and be available to work during their official time off, according to a new Slack survey.
The 2022 Holiday Season Survey, conducted by market research firm YouGov on behalf of Slack, asked over 2,000 Aussie knowledge workers about their ability to switch off this holiday season and the impact that working during time off could have on their well-being.
The majority of respondents said they’re going to make themselves available to work during their planned time off (67%), despite their managers encouraging otherwise.
What’s keeping everyone online?
In particular, those employees who normally work full-time in the office are more likely to be available (72%) than their hybrid counterparts (55%). Similarly, more office-based workers (70%) plan to keep their notifications on this holiday than those working flexibly (53%).
There are various reasons why Aussies are making themselves available this holiday season, including: important tasks or projects that need to move forward (78%); a personal preference to work during their time off (78%); managers (84%), customers (76%) and employers (72%) expecting them to be available; and a personal preference for working at a time when potentially fewer distractions will get in the way of productivity (75%).
“Many of us are still feeling the effects of the pandemic, and calendars are still being stacked full of meetings, meaning work is being pushed to early mornings and late into the night,” says Nicole Woodley, Slack’s Country Manager of Australia and New Zealand.
“People need a break, and in today’s modern workplace, digital tools, like Slack, can help tame the overload by helping automate work and enabling better practices that managers can adopt.”
Becoming a dangerous habit
The findings related to working during the festive period are not unexpected, given that the survey also showed that most Aussie employees already make themselves available outside of business hours, including on weekends (74%).
This is especially true for more senior employees, such as directors (98%) and C-suite executives (91%), who are more available outside of working hours than those in non-management roles (53%). Experienced workers ages 35 to 44 (79%) are similarly more available than younger workers ages 18 to 24 (66%).
However, working outside of business hours and on holidays can take a major toll on employees’ mental and physical well-being, with nagging thoughts of “unfinished business”—brought on by having to be ready for duty—likely to put a damper on what many Aussie workers feel should be a joyful, festive and relaxing time of year.
No wonder many employees are worried about burning out from the pressure of being constantly available for work (67%).
This comes as no surprise to lifestyle medicine physician Jenny Brockis, who says: “As humans, we are more productive, more creative and effective and, let’s face it, nicer to be around when not struggling with overwork, chronic fatigue or stretched to beyond capacity, and this can only be achieved through having sufficient downtime to rest, relax and restore. That’s why time off needs to be honoured, not diluted with justifications around needing to tie up loose ends, play catch up or to meet the expectation of others. It’s time to stop kidding ourselves that we don’t need a break over the holiday season. Everyone does.”
“Otherwise,” says Brockis, “employees will likely vote with their feet and look for employers where they don’t just feel like a commodity, or move into quiet-quitting mode, both of which have a clear impact on productivity.”
Additionally, the possibility of burnout is a concern shared by colleagues (56%), many of whom said they will actively encourage their coworkers to switch off (73%).
“Executives need to lead by example when it comes to setting boundaries, and not respond to messages and email, enabling workers to do the same when they take vacations, or even when we’re taking the kids to school.”
Similarly, many managers are concerned about the impact of employees having to work while on holiday (78%), with 84% saying they’ll also encourage employees to take a break from work and recharge.
However, the survey reveals that there are mixed messages for employees, as 71% of managers say they still expect employees to keep an eye on their messages. A further 73% of employers also want workers to be on standby during their time off.
Better use of technology would help workers log off
So is there an answer?
The majority of Aussie respondents believe that having good digital infrastructure and technology are key to balancing work and private life (78%), with a similar number (77%) saying these types of tools make it easier to show managers, coworkers and customers that they’re on holiday and should not be disturbed.
Interestingly, over two-thirds (66%) of employees felt their company and managers could use these tools more effectively to help them switch off.
The Slack survey found that the importance of digital infrastructure extends beyond just helping to show time off. Three-quarters (75%) of respondents said that the IT tools a company uses is now one of the biggest deciding factors when employees are seeking a new role, making it an area of priority for organisations looking to gain and retain the best talent.
The key takeaways
Workers aren’t going to get the break we all need if we don’t actively do something about it. Here are six ways to disconnect from work and enjoy time off this holiday period:
- Make sure everyone on your team knows you’ll be away in advance.Slack tip: Update your Slack status (for instance, with the emoji “PTO soon”) and indicate when and for how long you will be taking time off so your team is informed ahead of time.
- Appoint a vacation replacement who is available for questions while you are away.Slack tip: Tag the person who is filling in for you at work in your Slack status.
- Set expectations and be clear about when and how people can contact you in urgent cases.Slack tip: Provide a phone number in your Slack profile so people can reach you for truly urgent matters.
- Be disciplined and resist the temptation to check your work messages.Slack tip: Set Slack to “Do not disturb” and turn off push notifications after your working hours or while you are enjoying time off.
- Lead by example: Think twice before sending messages to people who are taking time off.Slack tip: Use scheduled send to schedule messages for the time the recipient is back from time off (for instance, Monday at 9 a.m.). This lets you scratch a task off your list but avoid disturbing others while they are taking time off.
- Lighten the meeting load and make it easier for others to catch up after time off.Slack tip: Instead of videoconferencing, use asynchronous Slack video and audio clips to record and share a short update with your team, regardless of time zone or location. This also makes it possible for people to watch these updates on their own time or when they get back from time off.
This is one of the advantages of using a feature-rich digital HQ like Slack, which connects people, apps, files, information and data in one place. Features like statuses and notifications give employees peace of mind about switching off, knowing they can easily catch up on what they missed when they’re back.
As we’re still weeks away from the end of the holiday season, there’s time for employers and employees to take action, so we can come back to work feeling refreshed and motivated.
About the survey: The 2022 Holiday Season Survey was conducted on behalf of Slack by market research firm YouGov. The survey interviewed 2,001 Australian knowledge-based employees between 17 and 24 November 2022.