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It is the holiday season and the debate continues. Should you or should you not check your e-mails while you are on holiday?  Aren’t you meant to be ‘getting away from it all’? The Mail on line ran a story about managers returning even more stressed from holiday because:

They claim that ‘Of the third of those polled who work while on holiday, 80 per cent ‘frequently’ respond to emails, nearly 50 per cent take phone calls and 10 per cent go into the office.’ One argument is that presentee-ism is at an all time high as people fear further job losses. As a result they work longer hours, restrict how much holiday they take and keep in constant contact with the office when they do go away. Good leaders have to know that this can’t be good for performance and productivity in the long run. People burn out. While their bodies are in attendance their brains are not, just at the time when your people may form the only competitive advantage you have. Make sure they replenish themselves when they take a break. Stress is not inevitable- it is a choice. Even when the pressure is running high, there is much that you can do to stay resilient. It can start with the way you see life As an incorrigible optimist, I tend to assume that e-mails will contain surprises and delights. I am the same with the post. Early training on birthday cards, valentines and pen pal letters has not been eroded by decades of tax bills, letters about sewage because of the White Water name or generally very boring correspondence. I can’t wait to open all my mail when I get home from a trip and now with the convenience of technology I can keep track of any goodies that come my way wherever I am. Not everyone thinks the same and now many people nag us to leave it all behind and chill. No doubt it depends on what you do, your personal style, how engaged you are with what you do and what level you are at in the organisation but here are a few suggestions:

  1. Set a limit If you dread going away because of the sheer volume of e-mails that will await you on your return, then perhaps it is worth scanning on a daily or every now and then basis to ensure there are no nasty surprises on your return but set a time and a limit if you feel the pressure might get to you. The Institute of Leadership and Management says if workers insist on checking their emails on holiday, they should limit themselves to once or twice a day.
  2. Develop others It would of course be better to tackle the issue long before your holiday, asking questions such as: Who could be screening and dealing with my e-mails in my absence? Start delegating and coaching now for a bit of peace next year.
  3. Leave a good out of office message. I recently sent an e-mail to someone not knowing they were on vacation. Instead of the usual boring o.o.o response, the automated message told me that she was indeed out of office, that she would not, under any circumstances, be reading her e-mails and that as I had already been foolish enough to send her an e mail it would be destroyed forthwith. (not in exactly those words but in harsh admin speak) That left me either having to note in my diary to contact her again on her return from her holiday idyll or forget all about her in future and go to someone else. I did the latter. So tell them nicely how much you want to respond on your refreshed return and they probably will wait- especially if you promise not to show them all your holiday snaps
  4. Make choices dependent on the nature of the trip. Recently, speaking to a Lloyd’s broker client, she described her recent marriage and honeymoon (a second for both of them) being marked out as very different because they both agreed to not just leave e-mails unattended, but to leave the Blackberries at home altogether. For their next holiday to the Caribbean in September they will check their mail but the honeymoon was marked out as extra special.
  5. Ensure that the technology doesn’t get in the way of intimacy ( see point 4) When people spend a great deal of time at work the re-entry into family life can be tricky. As a result, you can quite commonly see all the members of a family intently tapping away on their iPhones at foreign restaurant tables. Put the phones down and talk about the big stuff- life, love and the pursuit of happiness would be a good start. Politics and religion might be tricky until you are all more relaxed. . .
  6. Work out what works best for you and make deliberate choices in agreement with your fellow travellers and above all – enjoy your holiday!

The Mail article: Stressed then don’t go on holiday

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