At first glance, the phrase ‘working on holiday’ seems like an oxymoron. However, these days, it isn’t. With technology facilitating interconnectivity which allows people to work from almost anywhere, working while on holiday has become increasingly common. Whether through personal preference or job-specific pressures, more and more people work for at least some of their time off.

This may conjure images of being stuck in front of a laptop while your family enjoys themselves at an exotic beach, or simply replying to a few work emails from the comfort of a hotel room. Either way, working while you’re supposed to be on holiday is a situation that many people face, whether they like it or not.

In fact, new research by Budget Direct Travel Insurance shows that more than half of surveyed Australians had worked while on a personal holiday, with almost one third saying they had to do so to stay on top of their workload. The survey used a used a sample size of 1,000 people weighted to be representative of Australian adults aged 18+.

Do you ever work when you’re on a personal holiday or supposed to take time off work?

Just over half (52.1%) of surveyed Australians said they had worked while they were supposed to be taking time off. Men were slightly more likely than women to have worked while on a personal holiday, with 54.6% compared to 49.7% of surveyed women. This supports the ‘workaholic’ stereotype that is often attributed to men. Still, given the similarity of these results, it appears that men and women both have a difficult time switching off from work while on holiday.

Interestingly, 18-24 year olds were the only surveyed age group in which fewer than half (43.1%) of respondents had worked while on a personal holiday. While stereotypes abound that younger generations lack work ethic, this may be a simple case of working smarter, not harder. This number rose sharply to 60.7% among surveyed 25-34 year olds. A possible explanation for this is that the longer a person spends in a career, the more responsibilities they take on, thereby affording them less freedom to completely switch off from work while on holiday. Despite this, the percentage of people who had worked while on a personal holiday dropped to 51.1% and 50.6% respectively for those surveyed in the 35-44 and 45-54 age brackets, showing seniority has its perks.

Location-wise, there were only three states in which fewer than half of surveyed employees had worked while they were supposed to be taking time off: Tasmania (38.1%), South Australia (41.4%), and Queensland (48.7%). In every other Australian state and territory, more than half of those surveyed had worked while on holiday. New South Wales was particularly guilty, as a massive 57.5% of surveyed employees had worked while on holiday.

Nevertheless, given the percentages of surveyed employees who had worked while on a personal holiday were close to 50/50 for many demographics, it is possible that these findings are merely indicative of distinct work styles and personality types.

While these results are eye-opening, just as notable are the reasons why people reported working while they were supposed to be taking time off.

If yes - why do you work when you’re taking leave?

The most common reason (42.4%) why surveyed Australians worked while they were meant to be on holiday was that something circumstantial arose which required their attention. This was more likely to happen to women (44.7%) than men (40.2%), while the likelihood of circumstantial work arising while on holiday increased among every surveyed age group, from 38.7% of 18-24 year olds to 45.6% of 45-54 year olds.

Another common reason that people said they worked while on holiday was ‘I like to stay on top of my workload.’ Just under one third (32.6%) of those surveyed felt they had to work during their holiday to stay on top of their workload. Men and women were equally likely to respond this way, with 32.5% and 32.8% of those surveyed respectively. Age-wise, results varied slightly more, with surveyed 25-34 year olds being the most likely (37%) to want to stay on top of their workloads while on holiday and 35-44 year olds being the least likely (28.6%).

Notably, ‘circumstantial work’ and ‘liking to stay on top of my workload’ accounted for three quarters (75%) of the work surveyed Australians had done while on holiday. Thus, for the vast majority of surveyed employees, urgent work either arose naturally while they were supposed to be away, or they felt unable to leave their work while they were on a personal holiday. This seems to imply that many surveyed employees are taking on excessive workloads.

Elsewhere, only 9.5% of respondents said they worked during their holidays because they enjoyed their work. Men were twice as likely as surveyed women to say they had worked while on holiday because they enjoy it - 12.5% to 6.3%. This could indicate that men enjoy their jobs more overall, or, on the other hand, that women merely dislike working while on holiday.

Encouragingly, the likelihood of working on holiday due to enjoyment increased with age, from 6.5% of surveyed 18-24 year olds, to 8.7% of 25-34 year olds, before peaking at 12% of 35-44 year olds. In terms of location, Victoria led the way with 14.4% of those surveyed saying they worked on their holiday because they enjoyed it. For other states and territories, this figure hovered between 6% and 9%.

Other reasons that respondents said they worked while they were supposed to be on holiday were ‘I’m too busy to leave it until I’m back in the office’ (5.3%) and ‘I can’t rely on my team or colleagues to get something done’ (5%). Demographic breakdowns of these responses show that the results were fairly uniform across genders, ages, and locations, suggesting they impact surveyed Australian employees quite evenly.

In our fast-paced, modern society, work doesn’t simply disappear because you’re on holiday. However, these findings indicate that surveyed Australian employees have a problem with working while on holiday. As such, it seems we need to strike a better balance between working hard and taking time off - ideally without the two overlapping!


This survey was conducted by Pure Profile on behalf of Budget Direct in October 2018. All figures are from this research unless stated otherwise. The survey was conducted online with a total sample size of 1,000 weighted and representative of all Australian adults (aged 18+)