Emails: Check-in or Check-out on Vacation?

Posted 28 July, 2017 in Human Resources


The holiday season is almost here - the most popular time for employees to enjoy a well-deserved break from their usual routine.

But in today’s ‘always connected’ world, it’s oh-so-tempting to check emails on your phone, just to see if everything’s ok on the work-front.

What are the consequences, and how can you let go?

Detox from email over the Holidays

A recent study implied almost half of employees frequently check in, particularly millennials, who by default, are continuously connected and compelled to check all their apps, all the time.

Avoiding the dreaded over-flowing inbox after a vacation is a key reason why employees check-in.

But the downside of keeping tabs is the inability to completely switch off from work, let alone the risk of resentment from other holidaying family members.

More hours worked does not equate to more productivity, as confirmed by the OECD. American workers put in more hours – 33.6 per week on average – than all four of the top European countries that have higher productivity. This fuels the USA’s global reputation for being a ‘no-vacation nation’.

The data supplements what most employers already know: staff are generally more productive after a proper break. They return to work with their brains and batteries recharged, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

So, at this time of year, what can employers do to encourage employees to ‘let go’ of work during holiday-time, ‘unplug’ from their devices, and cut back on the sending and receiving of unnecessary emails? Here are some tips to help:

  • Encourage a positive culture where staff do not feel obligated to check in. Some employers have introduced ‘embargoed contact policies’ which state that colleagues must not contact their co-workers – no matter how quick the question, or small the request.  This is legislated in certain countries (France).
  • Discourage leaders from sending and replying to emails outside of hours. This only sets a precedent for other workers, who then feel guilty if they don’t respond in a timely manner.
  • Get staff on board and create an email charter aimed at reducing the number of internal emails (the following bullet points could form part of this). Ask staff to comply with this, explaining they will be the key beneficiaries as a result of fewer interruptions.
  • The old habit of copying in everyone into a message is now seen as a lazy way to ‘cover your own back’. Just email those who really need to know, and resist the temptation of adding a whole bunch of names in the ‘cc’ field.
  • Reply to all – not! When there are multiple recipients, it’s tempting to use the default ‘reply all’. But again, be disciplined about who you reply to. It’s highly likely you only need to reply to the original sender.
  • Could your message be delivered in person or over the ‘phone, rather than email? A quick face-to-face conversation could save lots of time and reach a decision in place of a trail of emails, that misunderstandings or misinterpretations are rife.
  • Cut the email thread - Another time killer is the trailing tentacles of a long and boring email thread. Cut the stuff that’s not relevant before you press forward or reply.
  • Easy to ask, but hard to answer - Emails which cause the most angst is the open-ended one i.e. when the sender asks “your thoughts?” These tend to fall into the too-hard-tray so simply get ignored. Or, the respondent is forced to spend an inordinate amount of time carefully crafting his/her opinion. (note: the open-ended email is usually a sign that a conversation would be a better tactic).  If it has to be by email, provide multiple choice options to help with decision-making.
  • Keep it short - With a little effort, everybody can improve email etiquette. Proof-read before pressing send; shorten where possible; treat the subject line as a headline so the recipient can determine if the message is relevant; and give a clear purpose of why you’re sending the email and what action is required.
  • Explore other options other than email for internal communications. For example, round up all the non-urgent content and condense it into a weekly or monthly digital newsletter with embedded video, imagery and editorial. This format is far more engaging for the reader, and reduces inbox spam. Tools such as alerts, tickers and screensavers are also great for reducing inbox clutter, and can be pre-set to broadcast during certain times.


In conclusion, make sure your staff enjoy a proper break this festive period - encourage them to digitally detox. If they do, the chances are they’ll return to work feeling positive and productive – a win-win for all.


This article has been edited and republished by Ragan

Human Resources