You’re on Vacation, But Your Coworkers Won't Stop Emailing You?
You're just settling into your pool chair with a juicy thriller and an adult beverage when you hear a familiar ping. Ugh. The office. What could they possibly want now? Don't they know you're on vacation? What should you do when you're on vacation and your coworkers won't stop emailing you?
Just. Stop. Emailing. Them. Back.
Of course, the above advice comes with a healthy dose of asterisks, depending on your industry, whether it's the busy season, and how much responsibility you have within your company. In general, though, if someone else could assist and the subject is not an emergency, let it sit. You'll deal with it Monday—and next time you're headed out for some well-earned R&R, you'll use these tips to set some boundaries for email on vacation.
Clarify Expectations With Your Boss, Your Colleagues, And Your Direct Reports
When you request time off—and again when you check in with your boss prior to your departure—make sure you and your boss have the same expectations for your availability during your time off. Explain whether you'll be completely out-of-pocket (for instance, on a cruise ship or overseas with a limited data plan) or whether you'll have the ability to check in periodically. What's appropriate for you will depend on your industry and your role. (In an ideal world, your supervisor will urge you not to check and to take a break.)
Once you and your supervisor have an understanding, communicate your availability to your colleagues and direct reports. Prep for your absence by making sure you've provided a status report on your current projects, and line up backup help for your time out.
Then, remember to set your out-of-office message before you leave, including a statement about your general availability ("I will have limited access to email but will respond to messages upon my return.") In other words, undersell your accessibility so no one expects a response.
Set Boundaries With Yourself, And Stick To Them
Once you're on vacation, turn off push notifications, and close Outlook. Do whatever it takes to ensure reading work email is a conscious choice, not an automatic response to an alert.
Depending on your agreement with your manager, set firm time limits on how long you'll look at email. For example, if you agree to check in once a day, set aside a specific time for responding to urgent matters (e.g., getting up half an hour before your traveling companions). Ideally, this time will not be in the middle of the work day so you don't generate any back-and-forth conversations with your limited replies.
Delete what emails can be deleted, delay what can be delayed, and reply only when necessary—and then get back to relaxing.
Return The Favor
Follow the Golden Rule when it comes to email: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words, respect your colleagues' vacation boundaries. Don't expect responses when they're taking time off. Do your part to establish a workplace culture that respects people's right— and need—to unplug. Most of us aren't working jobs that require constant accessibility—and if you are, your compensation should reflect that tradeoff. The ease of communication via mobile device has created a nation in which we can all work like Wall Street bankers and national security experts. Most of us, though, can afford to move at a slightly slower pace.
If all else fails, move to France. The country has had a "right to disconnect" law since 2017 that requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish "no-email" periods on nights and weekends. A similar measure has been proposed in New York City that would fine companies with 10 or more employees from requiring after-hours communications.
You may be tempted to feel guilty about unplugging, but remember: your time off is considered part of your salary and benefits package, and working too much is bad for your health, leads to mistakes and burnout, and isn’t actually more efficient.