Laura Johnson on why this time 'out of office' really does mean what it says
I’m preparing for our family holiday next week. So in between researching optimal SPF protection for the kiddies, contemplating if I need an extra bikini and littering the spare room with piles of clothes and various inflatable toys that have no chance of fitting within our luggage allowance, I’m also worrying about getting my work under control. Obviously I share the same shamefully egotistical belief as most workers in that I naively fear the whole UK economy is at risk of collapse simply because I’m taking a week away from my desk to relax on a sunbed.
Of course, deep down I know I’m not indispensible, but this logic is wasted on me once holiday panic has infiltrated my being. However much I crave and look forward to a holiday, as it creeps up I always find letting go of work is more of a struggle than it should be. Research by Travelbag.co.uk suggests it’s a common complaint in the British office community. As a result of interviews with 2,000 people, they concluded one in three British workers find they can’t switch-off on holiday for up to two days and a large percentage of respondents admitted keeping their phones switched on during their break. I’ve always been one of these people – it’s a confession I’ve shared on this Office Life blog before. But I want this holiday to be different. I’m on a mission to switch off completely – and that includes my smartphone.
While contemplating why a declaration to reclaim my vacation time felt so ridiculously momentous it was worthy of a whole blog post, I thought back to holidays of the bygone era before email became so easily accessible from a phone and to a time where being resolutely ‘out of the office’ was still a guilt-free pursuit. I realised the biggest difference was not actually the advancement in technology but the change in my mind-set. Whereas in the past I 100 per cent committed myself to being in ‘holiday mode’, now I waiver around the 50-60 per cent mark. With the opt-out of, “I can just pick that up on my phone while I’m having a sundowner on the balcony”, I’ve got lazy and half-hearted with my holiday preparation resorting instead to picking up the slack on the sunbed. So in the spirit of truly ‘switching off’ ahead of this break I have:
1. Started spreading the word in advance. In recent years, I’ve found myself keeping quiet about an impending holiday, feeling slightly guilty about taking time off and preferring not to gloat to stressed out work mates. As a result, often colleagues don't know I’m away and therefore they continue emailing as normal during my break leaving me feeling either obligated to respond or amplifying the dreaded post-holiday inbox overload. By being more open about my holiday plans, hopefully I’ve been able to deal with any immediately impending issues upfront, properly prepared cover and prevented at least some of the pointless emails building up while I’m away.
2. I’ve written my first genuine ‘out of office’ for a long time. My auto-response email messages are typically non-committal, apologising profusely for not being able to pick up emails immediately and promising to respond ‘as soon as I can’. This time I’m showing true dedication to ‘switching off’ by clearly stating that I won't be accessing my inbox between my vacation dates, will be away on holiday and unable to reply until I return to the office, and providing an alternative contact for urgent issues. Writing this felt strangely cathartic.
3. Switching my phone into ‘holiday mode’. Turning off my phone completely is not something I could contemplate (let’s take things one step at a time). No Facebook, no What’s App, no Instagram - I simply don't have this degree of restrain and willpower. So I’ve let myself off having a full digital detox, adding a slight caveat to my ‘switch off’ pledge to allow phone use for purely social and enjoyment purposes. Turning off my email notifications is my version of switching my phone into ‘holiday mode’. I have a Pavlovian reaction on hearing the ping of an incoming email, to immediately engage my work mentality and check what’s dropped into my inbox. To give me a fighting chance of resisting the urge to peek into work matters, the pings have to go.
So there it is. I’m ready to board that plane. Well almost, I just need to make a decision on that extra bikini and negotiate with a three year old about whether three inflatable dolphins are really necessary. Bon vacances!