why ignoring your email on holiday is good leadership

by | May 29, 2015 | Leadership

Do you find it difficult to make a clean break from work when you go on holiday? Perhaps you’re worried about what may happen in your absence, or reluctant to leave your team in the lurch, especially if there’s a lot going on or you have “green” team members. Or you might just be dreading a bulging inbox when you return to your desk.

So perhaps you’re thinking that you’ll just check email once a day, say, just so you can keep on top of things, pick up anything that goes wrong and avert catastrophe. Your holiday companions know you have a lot going on at work – they’ll understand.

Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as that, is it?

Once you’re safely ensconced in your holiday destination, you download your emails. You perhaps pick up on one or more emails that make your heart rate race just that little bit faster and you feel a need to tap a few replies….which then generates more emails.

You end up being preoccupied with what’s going on at work, you’re not present for your spouse/family/friends and nobody’s happy. Sound familiar?

So what if I were to tell you that you’re not just doing yourself a favour by switching off on holiday, but your team as well?

You may be thinking that you’re helping your team and colleagues by checking in and picking up the odd issue. However, these are the kind of messages you may unwittingly be sending out :

  • “I check my email on holiday. That means I expect you to check your email when you go away too.”
  • “I don’t trust you to look after things when I’m away.”
  • “I have no willpower : I can’t resist checking my email!”
  • “This is what it takes to be a leader in this organisation. You have to be “on” all the time.”
  • “I don’t believe in prioritising my family/friends/health/wellbeing.” And possibly, if you have spearheaded any sort of health & wellbeing campaign at work, “I don’t practise what I preach. It’s just lip-service.”

You may even have felt this way yourself about YOUR management when you get an email at 6 in the morning or 10 at night.

Your holiday is an opportunity

Your holiday is a great opportunity not only for you to refresh and rejuvenate but for you to give your team members a chance to stretch themselves.

Ask yourself : Who has leadership potential in your team? What if you gave them leadership or people or projects in your absence? What if you gave them a chance to shine?

Letting go when you go away may seem counter-intuitive, but the benefits could be helping your team to raise their game. And to be a successful leader, you need your team to be firing on all cylinders.

If the idea of letting go brings you out in a cold sweat, then that may be something you would benefit from working on – and the subject for a future blogpost!

Tips for transitioning between work and holiday

  • Signpost you’re going. Give plenty of advance notice to all relevant stakeholders that you are going on holiday – team members, peers, your management, clients, suppliers. Brainstorm anything that may come up in your absence – big and small – and prepare contingency plans.
  • Nominate selected team members as acting leaders for projects in your absence.
  • Be really clear that you’re not going to look at your email, but make sure your out of office auto-response gives one or more alternate contacts.
  • Let 1 or 2 key people know how to contact you just in case. Be clear to those people under what conditions they can make contact – for example, the world ending. One of my clients offers her husband’s telephone number if there’s an urgent message!
  • Ask your family/friends to confiscate your phone/devices while you’re away. This may be particularly important if you’re having a staycation and your study is near at hand.

And the ultimate solution?

Go away somewhere with no reception and no wifi – or pretend you haven’t got any!

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave your comments below.


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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps senior managers and directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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