By Joanne O’Connell, editor of Employment Solicitor magazine
Summer holidays are for switching off and not for stressing about work. However, plenty of us still take calls from colleagues at the airport and reply to client emails beside the pool. In fact, according to a survey by Glassdoor, as many as one in five of the UK workforce say they are expected to be reachable and aware of work issues if needed.
But while it may be easy to blur the boundaries between the beach and the office, thanks to smartphones, this 24/7 connectiveness isn’t good for employers either.
“Good employers know that staff need proper downtime,” says employment solicitor Tom Moyes. “Holidays boost mental and physical health, they allow staff to unwind, manage their stress levels and return to work energetic, engaged and refreshed. So, it makes business sense for employers not to email and phone staff while they’re away.”
Of course, one way to escape work is to take a digital detox. There’s always the option of going off-grid and sleeping in a no-wifi shepherds hut in Cumbria or sailing to a remote Fijian island without mobile reception (or how about just switching your work phone off?). But for those who want to stay in touch, with friends and family, here’s how to unplug...
Mark your holiday dates on your calendar and plan properly. Make a list of the urgent tasks that must be done, tie up loose ends, remind colleagues/clients/customers that you’re going away and only take on extra tasks if you’re confident about completing them in time. The last thing you want is a pile of undone work on your last working day before your break.
Give your colleagues advance warning about when you’re going to be away and make arrangements as to who will deal with any work in your absence. There may already be a structure in place for this (an assistant, for example) but you need to rely on some team players at work who can cover for you.
Once you’ve made those arrangements, set an out-of-office email response and voicemail for anyone who does get in touch. It should include the date you’re returning to work, that you’re not picking up emails and who to contact if their request is urgent. Don’t put your own mobile number on the message and skip the informal ‘I’m sunning myself in Marbella’ bit, just keep it professional.
If you have particularly demanding clients or a workaholic boss who expects you to be contactable, try and agree some rules before you go away. Ideally, you want a total break (the company won’t collapse because you’re in Florida for a fortnight) but if you do need to check in, agree to look at work emails two or three times a week, for example, and then switch off notifications.
When you’re away
Once you’re away, resist the temptation to engage with colleagues (even on social media) or access your work emails. Distract yourself by reading a book instead of scrolling down your phone; spend time with friends and family and unplug yourself from the usual routine. And if your boss or colleagues do get in touch, be open to the fact that their request might be perfectly reasonable. If all they need is to quickly check something, it’s probably best to take the call and get it sorted.
However, if they are contacting you constantly, politely remind them that you’re on holiday and agree on a time they can call (towards the end of your break, for example). If possible, don’t just ignore calls or send a message to say that sorry but wifi is dodgy on the campsite/hotel/villa. If you can send a message you can receive a message...
Manage your return
If part of what makes it hard to disconnect is the worry about returning to a massive workload or a fear of missing something vital, ask a colleague to get you up to speed on your return. If you do want to check in, limit yourself to only replying to work messages the day you go back to work.
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