Nothing beats the feeling of putting on your out-of-office reply just before going on holiday - well maybe for some it’s the thrill of posting cocktails from the beach to Instagram when you know it’s the daily team meet.
Seriously though, it certainly wouldn’t hurt if the pervading workplace culture was that of Thrive Global, owned by media mogul Arianna Huffington - where a program called Thrive Away automatically deletes employees’ emails while they’re on vacation.
Yep, all gone.
Zapped straight to the delete bin, allowing everybody on vacation to come back to an empty mail box.
“If the email is important, the sender can always send it again. If it’s not, then it’s not waiting for you when you get back, or, even worse, tempting you to read it while you’re away,” says Huffington.
Effectively the tool is an instant wall between you and your email, but most importantly it takes away the mounting anxiety of having a full inbox when you return.
It basically deletes “the stress of which mitigates the benefits of disconnecting in the first place,” she says.
Recalibrating our relationship with technology
With the end-of-year peak holiday season just around the corner and teams needing to plan and negotiate the leave periods and workloads - how do we “recalibrate our relationship with technology”?
Sadly in today’s busy workflow environments being out of office simply means the office goes with you via your mobile device. Yet as with Huffington’s Harvard Business Review post, study after study suggests that when we switch off properly, we’re better off for it, and even “more likely to get a promotion”.
But are there practical steps, besides deleting ALL the mails, to ensure we don’t let the toxicity of technology affect our unplugging and recharging - or our working relationships with the colleagues we leave in the trenches?
A snap survey amongst those who work in high-pressured environments shows that more often than not we get pulled back into the workflow through our very own doing.
According to Head of Human Resources for 24.com Jeannine Scheltens, most people in similar digital workflow organisations find it " difficult to totally switch off and detach from work".
“It is FOMO or guilt towards colleagues as they know how hard everyone works,” says Scheltens.
Another colleague’s struggle with acceptable work-life balance is equally real.
Finding herself in this “difficult to switch off camp” when she is able to put in for leave, she says it's something she often grapples with.
During last year's December break, the last leave longer that three days she was able to take “meant being online in the mornings to do an hour’s catch-up only to find that one hour has turned into three - while the rest of the family has gone off to the beach”.
And we know she is not alone in this dilemma, as many of us identify with similar work patterns.
News24 Night Editor Hanlie Gouws says she also struggles with switching off properly.
“I know I have to switch off on holidays and I know I can’t do that. So I tend to go to places with no reception or internet. It forces you to switch off and just be," says Gouws.
“No point stressing about things you don’t even know about! Even a weekend in the mountains with no phone feels like a proper holiday.”
That’s certainly one way of ensuring 'I’m on leave, so leave me alone'.
Leave planning requires give and take
If you’re not the boss, obviously all leave needs to be approved by your line manager, but it is even more important to know who is responsible for what when it comes to working within teams that deal with rigorous schedules.
Scheltens says planning around busy or seasonal periods within teams requires a degree of give and take.
“Employees should plan leave in advance over a period that is not your busiest period, such as month end for Finance. If it is a small team, agree who will be taking leave when, so if one needs to stand in for the other, they can return the favour.
“Agree beforehand what you can handle when you get back and what they need to cover for you while you’re away," she says.
Know your boundaries and stick to it
If you feel yourself getting roped back into work, stop it. Immediately. Whether it's your own doing or that of another colleague.
“Legally it is acceptable to not be contactable at all, but it also depends on operational requirements,” says Scheltens.
But while needing to take leave is a necessity, not having a dependable team can be a key concern for some, putting extra pressure on the remaining team members to "carry the load". As a result you will need to ensure proper procedures are in place, and determine who needs to be accountable - if not you then who?
“It depends on your level of seniority and what you are involved in at the time of your leave. Most managers or senior staff would monitor emails and be available for urgent calls or mails, but you cannot be reprimanded if you are not.
“Again, this is something that can be agreed upon before someone takes leave,” says Scheltens.
Lugging a laptop on holiday is never fun
But these problems are not limited to the digital environment either.
For instance Sue Petrie, commercial manager Southern Africa for British Airways says in order to have a good break that allows you to switch off properly, it requires proper handovers and solid pre-leave planning.
While working for an international airline means Petrie is fortunate that when she does take annual leave it is most likely to be somewhere overseas - lugging a laptop around while you’re on holiday is never fun - which is why she makes sure to do a proper handover.
"Schedule leave well in advance, block this out in your calendar and let colleagues know. Rather than rubbing their noses in it, this allows them to be able to plan around my absence, asking for any information they need before I go and not scheduling meetings while I’m on leave.
"I can also make sure that any conference calls or meetings that I’m expected to attend are covered and that the colleague who’s representing me is properly prepared."
Do the dirty work before you go
We’ve all be left with the horrible tasks nobody likes to do at some point - this is one way to ensure your colleagues will not be happy to pick up the load while you’re off enjoying Mai Tais.
“You’re colleagues are far more likely to help out while you’re away if you don’t dump the horrible jobs on them and even more so if you pick up some of the tasks nobody wants to do," suggests Petrie.
"So even though I don’t feel like it, I knuckle down and get the monthly report finished before I go. Somehow it also makes the holiday more rewarding.”
Added to this, in the run-up to getting everything prepped and planned - try not to cram in as many meetings as possible before leaving, she says.
“It inevitably just means having to hand the resultant work to a colleague. It’s better just to finish everything you can and attend only those meetings you have to.”
Trust your team
Petrie says delegating authority is crucial to setting clear expectations for while you're away.
“I make it clear what I will and won’t be doing while I’m away. This means giving people authority to make decisions on projects or letting them know in what circumstances they should call me."
Factor in buffer days
Another go-to tip is leaving a couple of ‘buffer’ days before you depart and after you get back.
“This lets me wrap up projects, respond to important e-mails and deal with anything that’s likely to come up while I’m away.
Similarly, she doesn't go straight back to work.
“Allow a day or two after you return to adjust to ‘normal’ life. Unpack, do the laundry, stock the larder and get a good night’s sleep. That way you’ll arrive back at work ready to work," says Petrie.
I’m on leave, so leave me alone
So with that said, we should all be able to comfortably put that out of office notification on - whether or not you add the “this message will be deleted, so please mail me back upon my return if it’s urgent” caveat and then batch delete - that is entirely up to you.
I know I'd like to give it a bash.
What are your thoughts on this, email (we promise not to delete it), otherwise tweet Traveller24_SA to let us know.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- 2018 in Public Holidays: Do your leave planning like a pro