by Deanna Parkton
Ah vacation… you have been waiting and working hard to make it happen. Plans have been made, your PTO is submitted and your bags are packed. Finally, it is time to unwind and unplug. Specifically, it’s time to unplug from your work email.
While many have the best intentions of unplugging while using their hard-earned paid time off, many people end up checking email, even while away. With the ability to work from anywhere and everywhere, the feasibility to continue checking email while on vacation is not a difficult one to come by. Many do so with the hopes that if they stay on top of their email, it will be less to tackle when they return to the office.
A Balance Careers article encourages that if an employee decides not to check email while on vacation, that they should discuss with their supervisor, to set appropriate expectations. This way, managers aren’t expecting responses while an employee is away. This speaks volumes about our current culture – that the norm has become checking email during vacation. A FastCompany article advises how to check email on vacation and still enjoy yourself, and this striking survey result cites that 59% of workers admitted to checking in with their bosses or coworkers at least once a day while on vacation and that they did so because they didn’t want to fall behind.
The problem could lie with the ability to work from anywhere with a wifi signal, or it might also be the example set by leaders. This Harvard Business Journal article, Vacation Policy in Corporate America is Broken, calls on leaders to show support for employees taking vacation, and to set a good example by not checking and sending email while away.
This year, we have a call to action. Try unplugging from your work email for the entirety of your vacation. While this may sound like a radical idea, the benefits of unplugging are evident: better sleep, better quality of life and better interpersonal communication.
Taking vacation is beneficial for many reasons, but returning to the office with a clear mind and a fresh perspective is a top reason. If you are spending even five minutes a day checking email, you are not allowing your brain to fully take a break from thinking about work. You are redirecting your energy to work when it should instead be resting and spending time with loved ones. By giving your brain a break from work for an extended period, you are better able to come back to the office refreshed and rejuvenated.
So what we are saying is that really taking vacation means not working during your time off, not even checking email.
Sounds easier said than done, right? We have some ideas to help.
Ask for help!
Our current work culture has conditioned us to think that if we decide to take time off, we deserve the onslaught of work waiting for us when we return. But what if we changed our thinking around this? The research is clear – taking vacation is good for your health. Why reverse the positive benefits of going away with an onslaught of stress upon your return?
Consider asking a colleague to take on your workload for the week. This could take the form of a “workshare” program where you cover for one other when the other is out of the office for any extended period (for example, more than three days). This will eliminate the pile of emails and work when you return, and creates a benefit for your colleague when it is their time to go away.
Making it work
Add language in your out of office (or voicemail answering message) to encourage the sender to reach out to your colleague. Try something like: “While I am out of the office, my colleague Sandra will be more than happy to help you. Please email Sandra at firstname.lastname@example.org so that your request can be answered in my absence.”
This is a bit different than the typical out-of-office response that only encourages the sender to reach out to someone else if their matter is urgent. Because most things can actually wait, rarely does the sender reach out to someone else for help. This means that the “not urgent enough” request will be waiting for you a week later when you return, along with dozens of others.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Identify a communication system so that your colleague can keep you in the loop on what they did in your absence. This way, you will be better able to assess which emails or requests have been addressed and which need your attention when you return.
Eliminate emails all together!
If possible (and with management approval of course), consider asking your company’s IT department to forward your emails to your workshare colleague to truly alleviate the email load when you return. Many IT departments have this functionality set in place for when an employee is out on medical leave or when someone leaves the company, why not institute it for short-term absences? Not only does it improve employee mental health, but it allows for continued workflow in an employee’s absence; certainly a win for the organization!
If these ideas sound extreme, consider that current workplace culture has pushed the notion that work is the priority, even when we are away from the office. While there are numerous benefits of being able to work from anywhere, it is important to be mindful and set boundaries for your own mental and physical health, especially during vacation. You have earned it!
For more ideas on how you can manage boundaries around your work, consider working with a career coach. A coach can help you identify strategies to face workplace challenges head on. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.
Deanna Parkton is a writer, career coach and educator with a passion for professional development and work wellness and happiness. With a focus on self-reflection, she works with individuals in their quest to reach their career goals as well as satisfaction in work-life balance. You can find more of her writing at workinglivingwell.com and she can be reached at email@example.com.