Recently a former colleague sent me an out-of-office message he had received from one of their suppliers.

Hello. Thank you for your email.
I am out of the office from Wednesday evening 13 May and return on Wednesday morning 27 May. Yayyyyy, holiday time.

During that time I am likely to receive 100’s of emails. On my return I will delete my inbox. Please re-send your email during week commencing Monday 25 May.

Thank you for your help and understanding.

Once I stopped gasping with astonishment several thoughts came to mind. Firstly the lack of customer service. Who is the customer supposed to contact in her absence? Or is your issue supposed to wait two weeks? Secondly the flippant “Yayyyy” makes me question her engagement to her company and job.

Putting these issues aside (for another blog) it did also make me ask what is reasonable behaviour during a vacation. With mobile phones, tablets, laptops, email and internet everywhere – are we now expected to be working during vacations, weekends and evenings?
Technology is a double edge sword. We can work more flexibly where and when we want, keep in contact easily around the globe and all at a faster pace. But this brings with it increased stress. A survey of 1000 working people, 83% believe that technology has made them more productive, but 53% believed it had increased their stress.

Stress comes from the blurring of boundaries between work and life. We think we are being efficient by checking our emails while commuting, while eating our breakfast, during dinner, when watching the kid’s sports game or during vacation. It is justified as saving us from coming into a mountain of emails in our inboxes. But then you never “switch off” from work. Work is always in and on your mind.

To be creative and innovative requires us to think in new ways, new situations with new perspectives. Creativity and innovation happens when you have head space. How many of us have had the best thoughts and ideas while on vacation? By checking emails you are bringing your mind back work and usually at the mundane level of rescheduling meetings, following up on tasks and other simple things you can fit on a 12×6 smartphone screen. It is not usually value added creative work you are doing.

Never switching off is not good for personal life either. We are not concentrating and enjoying what we are doing –tasting the food, watching the kid’s progress, or really taking in the scenery when on vacation. Work comes into our personal spaces and our personal spaces are no longer a retreat from the hustle and hassle of work.

Companies like Daimler have realised they need to establish clear boundaries for vacations. Daimler created a vacation email policy similar to the out-of-office message above. Emails will be deleted while the person is on vacation. However customers do receive the name of another person to contact. Volkswagen have turned off emails 30 minutes after the end of the shift to avoid people being on 24/7. A lighter touch is taken at where the managers have agreed that they won’t send messages after 8pm at night and weekends so they role model setting clear work-life boundaries. In Swiss Post the teams observe when their team members are working and coach employees who are sending emails late at night and during vacation.

What is your company doing to set clear boundaries between work and life? Are you sure your employees will not set up an out-of-office messages like the one above?

And what will you do during your vacation? I recommend you switch off the email and phone, get some headspace and just see how creative you can be.

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