If you have some vacation time coming up, and if you’re like most people, you will put up an autoreply email just before you leave, saying that you’re gone, when you’ll be back and who to contact if it’s urgent.
Although this approach is nearly universal, it has two massive flaws:
- Emails still reach your inbox, tempting you to check work email on your vacation just to make sure that nothing urgent is happening that requires your attention or to reduce email overload when you get back.
- When you come back from vacation, there may be hundreds of emails in your inbox.
I have talked to many people who mention both of these as a source of stress and I’ve just seen too many parents on family vacations handling work emails on their phone/laptop by the pool, when they should’ve been playing with their kids.
Fortunately there’s an alternative: Close your inbox while you’re away. This may seem like a weird idea but some workplaces are already doing it:
The car and truck maker Daimler has implemented a new program that allows employees to set their email software to automatically delete incoming emails while they are on vacation.
When an email is sent, the program, which is called “Mail on Holiday,” issues a reply to the sender that the person is out of the office and that the email will be deleted, while also offering the contact information of another employee for pressing matters.
I think this is brilliant and ought to become the standard way we handle emails on vacations.
The autoreply during your holiday would then look something like this:
I’m on vacation and your email was not delivered to me. You can resend it when I’m back at the office on August 4 and I’ll be happy to get back to you then.
Or if it’s urgent, you can contact these great people:
Here are 5 reasons why you should close your work inbox completely on your next holiday.
1: The “normal” way is fundamentally unfair
Here’s the problem: You’re away from work. As part of your contract with the company, you have time off and yet emails still reach you. This means that some of the work from your vacation time is simply shifted into your post-vacation work days.
And I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a company that plans for their employees to have extra time after a vacation to deal with the emails that came in during the vacation. Therefore this becomes extra work you have to do on top of your regular tasks.
One consequence of this is that many people end up checking their emails and responding to them during their holidays, which is also unfair. You’re entitled to time away from work. That’s what a holiday is.
But one of the most insidious effects of this is that taking longer stretches of time away from the office is punished immediately upon return, because your inbox will be full to overflowing. I haven’t seen any research on this, but I could easily imagine that this would subconsciously discourage people from taking time off or at the very least increase stress around any time off.
2: You can relax more on your vacation
When you know in advance that not a single work email will tick in, you can relax more. You can better be present in your vacation activities and be with the people you love.
3: You get to find out you’re not indispensable
Imagine going away for 2 weeks without dealing with incoming emails and coming back to find that the world has not ended, the office is not on fire and the company didn’t bankrupt itself in your absence. In fact, things went pretty smoothly without you.
Being indispensable at work can give you quite a kick, but it’s a dangerous addiction.
In short, while you’re a valued employee who does great work, you are not indispensable. No one is. Or at least, no one should be. If your workplace cannot function at all without you, that is a clear failure of organization and leadership.
Knowing that things can function without you leads to a lot less stress and makes it easier for you to take time off in the future.
4: You teach others you’re not available 24/7
In my company, bosses send emails at all hours - late at night, on the weekend or during vacations – and always expect an answer. If you don’t react within 20 minutes, you get a text message demanding a reply. If you don’t react to that, they call you on the phone. They basically expect us to always be available.
Some clients (these can be external or internal clients/managers/co-workers) have developed an expectation that others are available to them 24/7.
Closing your inbox sets boundaries and shows them that this is not the way things are.
5: Come back more productive
And finally, closing your inbox means that when you get back to the office, you can instantly be more effective because you don’t have to deal with a backlog of hundreds of emails and having to figure out which of them were important, which are still relevant and which were handled by others while you were gone.
If you go on vacation with an empty inbox, you come back to an empty inbox. Anything important that wasn’t handled in your absence can be resent to you now that people know you’re back.
What if your workplace won’t let you do it?
I took most of July off this and did exactly this. However, I’m self-employed, so I can do whatever I want :)
But what if your workplace won’t allow you to do it? If that’s the case, there’s also a middle way.
Julian Troian is the Chief Happiness Officer of a company in Luxembourg called Etix Everywhere. His autroreply gives people an option to interrupt his vacation but also makes it clear that there’s a cost:
I am currently out of the office on vacation.
I know I’m supposed to say that I’ll have limited access to email and won’t be able to respond until I return… but that’s not true. My iPhone will be with me and I can respond if I need to. And I recognize that I’ll probably need to interrupt my vacation from time to time to deal with something urgent.
That said, I promised my family that I am going to try to disconnect, get away and enjoy our time together as much as possible. So, I’m going to leave the decision in your hands:
If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I’m on vacation, please give me a call on +352.xxxxxx and I’ll try to take your call and provide you with assistance.
If you think someone else at Etix Everywhere might be able to help you, feel free to email one of my colleagues at HR : email@example.com and they’ll try to point you in the right direction.
Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return…
Julian says it works really well and people only interrupt him when it’s something urgent that only he can deal with.
How will you handle emails on your next vacation? Could you close your inbox?