The big question: Should you check work emails while on holiday?

There's no sitting on the fence here.

July 13, 2016

A very 21st century question that will plague many over the summer months: should you check work emails while you're away on vacation? 

Two of EDGAR's team take up the batons for the opposing sides. Were does your allegiance lie? 


Robert Chilton, editor-in-chief

One of the thrills about going on holiday is clicking your out of office auto signature ‘on’ and then shutting down your computer. What a satisfying feeling it is as you wave goodbye to the glass-fronted rectangular fun-killer on your desk that you spend more time with than friends, family and partners.

Holidays are about getting back to living as we humans are meant to live: walking, laughing, snoozing, swimming, eating, dancing. The human body is designed to walk 30kms per day – it’s in our DNA. We are not designed to sit in front of a screen tapping keys and clicking things for eight hours, breaking only to mindlessly eat a limp sandwich at your desk. 

Work emails should be ignored when you’re on holiday – otherwise it’s not a holiday. We need time to rinse the office from our brain and reconnect with people. We need to relax and enjoy that precious, golden sensation of freedom, even if it is only for two weeks. We need to reinforce bonds with loved ones and catch up on their lives and feelings. We need to talk and listen with full attention, without stealing a glance at your phone screen to see if an email has just landed in your inbox. 

And don’t think you can just log in to your work email quickly for ten minutes while at the pool to make sure everything is okay at base camp. That way madness lies. Ten minutes becomes 20, which becomes an hour, which becomes a whole morning, as you frantically bash out quick replies and your heart pounds with the tension of it all.

The office will not crumble to dust if you don’t read your work emails. If there was a really urgent problem that required your input, a colleague would phone or text you. Let’s be realistic, 99 per cent of decisions can wait until you return to work.

Ignore your work email while on holiday and you will return to the office, ready to attack your inbox – and your job as a whole – with a renewed focus.

Click that out of office button with panache and skip out the door with a cheery ‘bon voyage’ to your colleagues who will watch you with envy and let out a weary sigh as they begin writing another email. 


Neil Churchill, associate editor

I agree: switching on your ‘Out Of Office’ and scribing a humble brag that you’re somewhere else in the world is truly one of working life’s great moments.

It should indeed mark the beginning of an email free period where your mind can be cleansed from business jargon and overly polite signoffs. And maybe ten or even just five years ago, that was very possible.

But today’s tech-enabled world has reached a point where email-free holidays are just unrealistic. When Emirates enabled wi-fi on their A380 planes, that was it. The one place you could truly be offline, 40,000 ft above the earth, gone. 

A 2014 study by global recruitment agency Randstad* led its chief HR officer, Jim Link, to tell Forbes the following: “Historically, up until the last 10 or 15 years, it was much easier to separate [holidays and work emails]. That’s just no longer the case. It’s become harder, technologically speaking, to really build that separation.

“There’s that group of people who find more satisfaction in being able to occasionally check in than to come back and have to respond to 500 emails and 60 voice mails.”

And there lies the key to the debate; as good as a work-free holiday may be, the first day back syndrome can be truly awful if you’re unprepared. Even the most ardent disciples of EFH (email-free holidays) cannot deny the dread that builds as you approach ‘the end’. A bulging inbox is the stuff of 21st century nightmares. If you can ease that stress by briefly checking your emails once a day, surely it's worth it. 

What about social media? If you truly wanted to switch off from your habitual daily grind would you not also forgo your online likes? Is posting a jealous-inducing Insta pic not doing the same damage as briefly checking your emails? Sure, on paper social media is deemed as fun, work is not. But with the two now so intertwined are you really giving your brain a break if you’re ‘checking-in’ every time you sit down at a café, your colleagues back in the office commenting with an angry emoji?

I truly would like to be on the other side; the changes a holiday brings are wonderful for the mind. But the small inconvenience of checking your emails for a few minutes a day far outweighs working late on your return, catching up on meetings and sorting through more emails than you thought was humanly possible.

The rise of ‘worlidays’ – a term coined by a Financial Times journalist to indicate working whilst on holiday, and subsequently using greater annual leave as a result – is the future, if not already the present. 

* The Randstand study found that 42 per cent of employees reported feeling obligated to check their email during vacation, while 67 per cent said they felt more productive following a holiday. That means that some both checked emails while they were off and returned to be more productive, suggesting there is a balance between the two camps.