Checking Email While on Vacation

If You Work When You're Off, You Are Not Alone

a woman checking her phone in a hotel room

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Do you check email on vacation? If you do, you're not alone. Surveys report that more than half of employees check email while they are on vacation. The bigger question is whether you should take the time to check your email while you're on vacation or otherwise not working. If you do, a vacation can turn into a "workcation" when you get bogged down in email messages that need a response.

Working on Vacation

There are two schools of thought on the topic of working when you're not supposed to be. The first says it's important for a vacation to be exactly that. No work, no work-related communications, email, phone, or otherwise.

The second says that if you check email occasionally you'll be able to stay on top of what's happening at work, can deal with any situations that can't wait, and won't have an overflowing inbox when you get back to work.

What Employers Expect

Another issue is employer expectations. Many employers expect employees to stay connected and to check-in at least every once in a while—even when they're off the clock. It's not unheard of for managers to request employees to check email while away, especially with the portability of laptops and phones. If you're not sure, check with your boss when you ask for the time off.

For most, it's much easier to stay connected than to have to deal with hundreds of email messages after your vacation. For others, it's preferable to ignore them and deal with them in a batch after you return.

Regardless of what you decide about staying connected while you are away, it is important that both you and your supervisor are clear on what work-related activities you are doing if any. It's also important to follow through on what you decide.

Don't say you will be checking in if you aren't sure you'll have Internet access or you really need to be disconnected to enjoy your vacation. It's worse to have your boss think you'll be checking and then not do it than to tell him or her you won’t check-in at all.

Consider your role at the company, your responsibilities, the pros and cons of staying in touch with your office, and what impact your decision may have on how the company regards you.

If it's common practice for employees to stay in touch, you may not want to be the only one who opts out. Regardless of how you decide to enjoy your vacation, here are some tips on the best way to handle your email while you are away.

Talk to Your Supervisor

Before you head out of the office and out of town, discuss your vacation plans with your supervisor so you are both clear on what is expected and whether you will be checking in while you are gone.

When to Just Say No

If you're going somewhere where Internet access is iffy, if you're traveling internationally, or if you're going on your honeymoon or another vacation where it's important to take a real break from work, it's fine to say you're not going to be available. This way, the company can plan on coverage while you're away.

Plan Email Checks

When you do decide to check your email, don't check it all day on your phone. Plan on spending a little time each day—either early morning or in the evening—to get caught up. Check your email once a day and ignore it the rest of the time or you will end up not having a vacation at all. Make sure your supervisor knows and is supportive of your plan.

Set Up an Out of the Office Vacation Auto-Reply

Consider setting up an out of office auto-reply message. That way, the people who email you will know you're away and don't expect an immediate reply. Gmail can strategically respond to only the messages you want to reply to.

Skim Your Messages

In an effort to keep your email inbox under control, skim your email messages, delete the junk, reply to only those that need an immediate response and save the rest for when you get back.

Don't Feel Guilty

If you do decide you are actually going to be on vacation and you are not going to check with the office, don't feel guilty. You are supposed to be on vacation and disconnected, after all. It's not a vacation if you end up working all day.

What's most important is balance and what is best for you. You need to be honest with yourself, your manager, and your family about what to expect from you during vacation.

Some people can enjoy themselves more when they stay connected, even if it’s just a quick check-in once a day. For other people, it's crucial to have real downtime from work and to completely disconnect from the office while they are on vacation.