Why Is Your Team Working While On Vacation?

As we near mid-summer, we are entering prime vacation season and I’m sure we have all seen this type of behavior: You email someone and their out of office reply is on, not two seconds later you get a reply with a response. “What?” you say to yourself. They were supposed to be on vacation and you were just sending that email so they could get to it when they got back. Why are they responding to email when they are on their vacation?

People, this must stop. The continued creep of business into our personal time is not a good thing for you or for your company. This is not some isolated incident where an overachiever cannot disconnect from their email, we are seeing it more and more these days. Not only at the executive level, but managers and employees are working when they should be recharging. People refuse to really take vacation instead say they are on PTO but just work remotely. It must be said, clearly and without ambiguity that this type of behavior is counterproductive.

As a leader when you see this happening within your organization, you likely need to ponder some tough questions to get to the root of the issue.

Does the organization encourage this type of behavior?

I know that you are not telling your people to work, but are there signs within your organization where people feel that they must work? Often it is a “badge of honor” to be so busy that you have to work nights and weekends. Hard work equals getting ahead, but is the team working harder where they could work smarter? When your people are working off hours, is it addressed as a problem or are your thankful that they are continuing to work while off the clock?

Are you, as a leader, modeling this type of behavior through your work habits?

This is a big one that I have seen time and time again. Leaders will work at all hours of the night sending emails to their team so they can be ready for the next day. This remains counterproductive because the second your team gets your email, they want to respond and get right back to you. They see that you were up sending emails at 4:45AM and get the indirect message that if they want to move up the ladder or be a top performer on your team they need to do the same. Be mindful of when and how you communicate with your team while working off hours.

Is the office environment suited to getting things done?

Distractions, lack of focus, meetings piled on meetings. All of these can interrupt your flow. For knowledge workers especially, do they have the space and time to get things done? How are interruptions managed and avoided? Are there blocks of time when your team can work interrupted? A common reason for employees working outside of normal business hours is that they simply can’t focus to get their work done during their normal work day. Do you wonder why that one person shows up at 6AM or stays until after everyone leaves? Ask them and you will likely find out that this is when they can actually get work done!

Have you spoken to this individual about why they feel the need to work during their off hours?

Working while you should be playing could have many causes. Sometimes people get addicted to work. Being that go to person or the one who can get things done is a nice feeling! Positive re-enforcement is provided because of going above and beyond. Are the right skills and tools in place for this person to do their job effectively? Back to working harder not smarter, perhaps extra work is happening because they don’t know any better how to get the work done. Perhaps they have been placed in a position that is a stretch for their skills. Are they struggling with a knowledge or skills gap? Perhaps they have a personal issue that is distracting them during the day or they are trying to gain favor and move up the corporate ladder. Whatever the situation, having an open and honest conversation is critical to avoid burn out.

Are your staffing levels appropriate to the workload?

Sometimes the most obvious solution is the right one. Is there simply too much work to be completed during the day? Be realistic, have the employee keep a log of what they are doing and analyze it for patterns and improvements in efficiency.

There are many reasons why employees might be working outside of normal business hours, but none of them should remain unaddressed for long. I firmly believe that people work hard and want to do their best. This at times requires going above and beyond. But if it becomes the new norm, your organization will quickly get into issues with employee burnout and turnover. Address this problem with urgency and help bring balance to the lives of your employees.