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Email wrecking your holidays? Five ways to untether yourself on leave

Guidelines on how to pack and unpack your email inbox for the holiday...

If you can't fight the urge to check what's going on back at the office, at least minimise the damage this compulsion can do to your holiday, says Monica Seeley.

Do you really need to stay chained to your email when on leave? The immediate answer is usually 'yes'. But when probed about who says you are expected to stay in touch, most people say something along the lines of, 'No one. I just feel I must'.

Obtaining real benefit from taking a break means relaxing, switching off from the day-to-day work worries and clearing your mind. For many, a holiday is an opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with family and friends. However, staying tethered to your emails - and these days social networks, too - often denies us these benefits.

We believe we can multitask but all the evidence points towards this idea being fallacious. You may be on holiday but if you are thinking about work, you are not always really part of what's happening.

Email on holiday

The compulsion to stay in touch with email or social networks while on holiday often reflects deeper psychological challengesPhoto: Shutterstock

The compulsion to stay in touch often reflects far deeper psychological challenges such as anxiety about one's job, lack of trust - and perhaps even the skill - to delegate, depression about dealing with the backlog on return, inflated feeling of self-importance and addiction to email and social networking.

The addiction is becoming a real concern both for psychologists and psychiatrists. If you do feel email addiction is an issue, benchmark yourself using our email addiction self-assessment tool.

There is also an underlying notion that email is somehow personal and private and no one else should be allowed access to your inbox. This belief is often a cover-up for poor email management and an inbox that contains a vast amount of personal email, counter to the company acceptable usage policy. Who would want someone else rifling through the folders of their private life?

How can you help yourself and those with whom you work to realise and accept that it is OK to disconnect? First is the obvious step of telling people very clearly what is expected of them. Just because you give them a mobile device doesn't mean they cannot turn off the email and use it simply as a phone.

Second, ensure people have someone to whom they can delegate - be it a PA or a colleague. Make it policy that whenever people go on leave they give someone else email access to keep an eye on their inbox. None of us is indispensable and emails are company property.

Third, make sure you provide guidelines on what should be said in the out-of-office message to...

About

Dr Monica Seeley is an international expert on email management and runs the Mesmo Consultancy. She is a visiting fellow at Cass Business School, City University, London, and has just written her third book, Brilliant Email, published by Pearson.

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