I had an epiphany of sorts a couple of years ago, courtesy of a good friend of mine. I caught up with him after he had taken several weeks of holiday/vacation time, most of which was spent in a coastal town a few hours’ drive away. I asked how his break was and he replied “It was fantastic. I switched off my phone and left it at home and just enjoyed the time with my wife and kids”.
I was initially taken aback by what my friend told me.
“You mean you had your mobile phone switched off for the whole two weeks?” I gasped.
“Yep” he replied in a very self satisfied manner.
“You didn’t even check your work emails just once or twice?”
“No, and it was the best decision I could have made. I feel like I had a really good mental break”.
After pondering my friend’s approach for a few weeks, I vowed to do the same for my midyear break that year. For some time I had been aware of some of the negative impact of being connected to work 24/7 and every day of the year – the intermittent distraction of my presence, focus and attention towards my wife and two young children when at home or on holiday.
So I did it. As I left the office on my last day before holidays I put my out of office message on, turned my emails off and didn’t switch them back on until my first morning back at work. It felt hard to take the leap of faith initially but I now will never do holiday time any differently. Switching off work emails while on holidays meant that I could be fully present with my family on our get away and properly unwind and recharge.
The work related benefits of being totally on leave include giving someone else a chance to fully step up into your role – i.e. they have full authority and accountability to make decisions and they get to totally immerse themselves in the role, which is great for development and succession. People will attempt to solve an issue or challenge themselves when they know that you won’t be reading or responding to your emails – and they invariably sort it out just fine.
There is also value in getting your own work and projects fully organised in order to be able to switch off during your leave and “letting go” enough to have faith that things won’t fall apart in your absence (which of course they won’t if you are organised before hand, take the time to brief others, handover properly and manage expectations about your availability to respond to issues while on leave).
I have observed that generally the more senior a person in an organisation the less likely they are to be completely absent or out of contact while on their holiday time. It could be argued that in their high pressure and time demanding roles it is they who most need a complete break in order to perform at their best consistently. Their modelling of behaviour in this area also sends signals to other employees as to how they should manage their annual leave – with people often feeling like they “have to” stay on top of emails and calls even while on their precious leave.
So do yourself, and significant others, a favour. On your next vacation time make the choice to truly take a break. Switch off your email. This does not make you a bad employee. In fact, both you and your employer will be all the better for it.