When I left for my vacation in Maine a couple of weeks ago I left a note on the white board outside my office: “On vacation in the woods. No wifi. So sorry.” I didn’t add “sorry not sorry,” but I could have. I wasn’t truly sorry at all, and if you accidentally on purpose leave your phone behind when you go on vacation (even if it’s a staycation on your living room couch) you shouldn’t be sorry, either.
We need to take our vacation days, and we need to take them fully. Many of us do take them all, especially those of us who don’t have that many days to begin with and parcel them out like the treasure they are, as well as those of us who must use vacation days for exciting things like parent-teacher-conferences, puking pets, or visiting aging Aunt Edna in rural North Dakota. But there is a thread running through our culture that says that we shouldn’t take vacation, that we should be busy night and day, that being a good employee means being available all the time. Even on vacation.
I get that it is hard to leave work behind if your boss expects you to take work with you, to keep the office in the back pocket of your jeans as you hike up the Appalachian trail. And so it is tempting to do just enough checking in to show your boss that you are still connected, still available, still valuable. The thing is, reading work emails or texts for 20 minutes a day doesn’t just take 20 minutes of your vacation away – it breaks the vacation spell. Work worms its way into your thoughts, and before you know it you are worrying about office politics while you are jumping through waves at the beach (or having a 5pm dinner at the Pizza Ranch with Aunt Edna). And that’s a shame. Breaking the vacation spell robs you of the opportunity to recalibrate your brain, and we all need that from time to time.
When agonizing about whether you really can disconnect or not, try to think about what will happen if you don’t respond to your emails. Will anyone die or suffer grievous injury? Will you get fired? No? Okay, then consider that you can disconnect, and maybe you should. I think we supervisors can undermine our words about disconnecting during vacation by sending emails to people who are on vacation, and then those people we send emails to believe we don’t actually want them to disconnect. We supervisors should stop that. And if you are on vacation and receive emails, know that there may not be any hidden rebuke in the fact that people are sending you emails; they just want to get the email off their desk. It will still be there when you get back to the office.
So, please: turn on that “out of office” email response, put a note on your white board, write your list of tasks to delegate to your colleagues, and get out of here. Scoot. Begone. Shoo. I don’t want to hear from you until you get back. Truly.