The holidays present an opportunity to unwind and recharge. Maybe get that book read, spend some quiet time to unwind, or meet up with family and friends. All of this sounds great but in reality many of us will likely spend time working even though it’s our days off.

A survey from 2014 found 57% of employees planned to do some work during the Christmas holidays, while nearly a similar amount work on summer vacation. I can understand this. Unless you have someone that covers for you, you may end up coming back to a pile of work and endless emails. The last thing you want to do is to be buried in work making you forget you had any time off, or worse yet, regret taking time off.

It’s not just on holidays and vacations that work creeps in for a lot of us, it’s also evenings and weekends. A lot of people look at endless work as a badge of honour bragging to colleagues about how little sleep they got or that they get hundreds of emails per day as if it’s a measure of self-worth, and makes them more productive. Indeed, the average work week for many has increased over the past few decades.

Christmas work

So what’s the big deal of working during the holidays if it eases the stress coming back and you want to do that?

For some people, it may be okay to work and do some catch-up while on holiday but it can become problematic. The idea of taking time off is to get away from work, do other things we enjoy and if you’re working, well doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

Working long hours and into your holidays can actually lead to burnout, which isn’t good for you or the employer. While we might think working long hours results in more productivity, that isn’t always the case, it may actually result in less productivity or at least less efficiency. Working more hours can impair memory and cognitive function. And countries that have the longest working hours aren’t necessarily the most productive.

At first it may seem odd that putting in more hours doesn’t translate to more productivity but think about any time you’ve been working on something, whether work or jobs at home or even a Sudoku puzzle. At some point you might get to a roadblock where nothing makes sense. The temptation is to keep plugging away even though you know a break would do you good. At this point your brain is tired; no different than if you were doing some heavy exercise when t your muscles tire and to rest. Taking a mental break can be helpful and get you refreshed to look at things from a different angle making the task seem  easier.

work- bed

There are also more serious consequences than just reduced productivity from working long hours. Working longer hours is associated with increased injuries on the job. For those of us with desk jobs, long working hours mean long sitting hours, and we know that sitting and not moving for a long time is not good for us. Long work hours are also associated with an increased risk for stroke and can compromise our wellbeing. Then there is the intangible consequences of how working during your holidays can affect the relationships with the people around you; are you spending time working at the expense of time with them?

In order to address these problems some employers offer unlimited vacation but this has mixed results with some workplaces experiencing employees taking less vacation in almost a competition to see who can work the most, or employees who are afraid to look like they’re taking advantage of the policy. Organizations where unlimited vacations does work actually embrace it and encourage employees to take time off from the top down.

With advances in technology, being able to unplug in today’s world is becoming hard to do, but it maybe even more important nowadays. The idea of technology in the workplace is to make us more efficient, not less. In the 1930’s economist John Keynes predicted we would now be working 15 hours per week due to technology, but it seems the reverse is true and the most recent advances in communication technology actually means we are connected to the workplace all the time.

When I’m talking about unplugging, I don’t necessarily mean doing away with technology per se, although some might feel that works for them. It’s hard to do away with your smartphone because it’s more than just a phone. It’s our camera, our navigation system and connection to the outside world, and it’s not the actual phone that is the problem (since hardly any of us communicate by the phone anymore) it’s the fact of having your work email and other notifications on that phone. If you’re using your phone as a camera and you might see that new email from a colleague just as you’re about to take a picture of your kids’ snowman or the sun setting.


A few years ago I was frustrated by the amount of email I received over the weekends and I was trying to figure out how I can reduce that. It didn’t seem realistic to tell people not to email me but I realized the more I responded to the emails the more I got, so I made a rule for myself not to send out emails on the weekend. If I do feel the urge to reply, I will draft it and save it until the next work day to send it.

While you can disconnect your work email from your phone (I have done that), it may not work for most people who have a work phone. One strategy some of my colleagues use is to have two phones; their work phone they use during business hours and their personal phone. This allows them to put their work phone down when work is done.

Sometimes it may not be possible to totally unplug. In that case, setting aside a specific time to get to work duties done and stick to that time. Even plan what work you are going to do and stick with only that. Otherwise it may be too tempting to go down the rabbit hole of dealing with work and emails that aren’t urgent or needed. If you’re on holidays with family or friends, let them know of your intentions so that plans can be made to avoid potential tensions between spending time on work and those around you.


If you’re worried about coming back to a pile of emails and meeting requests, try setting your out of office email response and voicemail to indicate you are back one day later than you actually return, this will give you a whole day to get to those emails and respond.

Unplugging can do a lot for your own health and the relationships around you. To put it in context, if you expect to live around 80 years, most of us will spend no more than half of those years working on our career, so work is in fact a temporary activity and speaking with now retired colleagues, I haven’t heard any one of them say they wish they worked more. So enjoy the holidays and allow yourself to recharge.

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