Your Boss Told You to Check Email During Your Family Vacation? Seriously?

Read that headline again… if you even thought about agreeing to check email when you’re vacationing, let’s take some time to think this through.

This scenario played out in my career and the shocking part was, the man who asked me to check email was a world traveler. We started working together a year before the Great Recession at a prominent media company. He was charming, funny and an overall solid boss. I genuinely liked him. Had he not been my boss I would have befriended him outside of work.

He had traveled the world and continued to do so while we worked with one another. He hit two continents and somewhere between three and five different countries over five years. My wife and I hit an equal number. We had a lot in common.

The Great Recession, for those who were not in the workforce during this timeframe, was horrific. When you’re 401k tanks precipitously over an entire year and one-fifth of your colleagues and coworkers get laid off, your instinct is… what happens when I’m let go and my paycheck evaporates? How am I going to find a new job during these circumstances?

This was when management, at my company, took a turn for the worse. The year was 2010, and during a weekly sales meeting, the bosses at my company insinuated workers had to check their email during vacation. This was not the company policy, but in light of declining revenues and little to no profits, management possessed leverage over their employees.

When they made this suggestion, the inner child in my head told them to go pound sand up their ass. Vacation was… vacation, and a break from work. I was curious to see how this would play out.

To my utter shock, my coworkers complied like lemmings falling off the cliff. Management, again, voiced their appreciation for those who checked email and now it was an implied policy.

My boss continued to make this request. “There’s really no worry in doing so, just check to see if anything pops up and forward the note along. We’ll call if there’s a major issue… we don’t want to miss a single cent of potential revenue.”

Oh, how cheery and chipper, I thought.

So, boss, you want me to go on email every day on my vacation, scroll through the 100 emails I get and forward the important ones to you and my assistant? Subsequently, you want me to avail myself to you via phone while I’m sitting on a beach soaking up the sun with my wife? My inner voice screamed out loud, ‘tell him to f*ck off! It’s called VACATION!’

Here’s how I responded.

First, the company-issued Blackberry they gave me remained behind, on a single piece of white paper which rested on top of the laptop. I brought neither of these with me on vacation. If and when they looked at my desk, the instruments I used to conduct business remained… in the office.

Here’s the out-of-office email I used, which followed with contact information to my assistant:

“From Feb 3rd to February 7th, I will be on vacation and out of the office without access to email or voicemail… hence they call it a vacation.”

Both actions prompted my manager, and his boss, to call me into their office at 9:30 am the day I returned to work. My inner child smirked during the entire length of this meeting. They were disappointed and extremely frustrated that I didn’t follow their rules! “How could you let this happen? What were you thinking with that out-of-office response? Why… are you… the only person on the staff that doesn’t see the logic behind what we’re trying to accomplish, during a recession no less!”

I said what I had to keep my job, but I did not agree to check email. Had they fired me, they honestly had no case and I would have involved a lawyer to remedy any financial challenges I incurred.

The point of this story is, now that I’m a dad, why in God’s name would I ever check email while I’m taking a paid holiday? Why would you?

There are two critical reasons to dial out of work when you can. First, you deserve a break from the never-ending process of ‘work.’ The word is both a noun and a verb, and it literally implies it never ends. You need to shut down to recharge the batteries once in a while.

Second, you deserve to spend quality time with family during your vacation. On some level, this represents ‘work’ itself but your kids need to see you and more often than not, you’ll have some fun.

How often in life, do we get the chance to play and have fun as adults? Why would you let anything impede that, despite your boss being a douche and expecting you to check email while you’re supposed to be downshifted and relaxing?

My suggestion if this is a policy at your company: tell them you will be off the grid, in a foreign country outside of cellular range. Don’t share any details about the destination directly with your boss. If you tell a coworker and your boss asks you why you can’t check emails while you’re down in Fort Lauderdale, tell him that must have been a rumor – you’re out-of-the-country plans have not been altered.

Lastly, if they continue to nudge, put something in writing. The chances are their company policy, the documents that officiate how they operate, do not state you have to check email.

And if your out-of-office response resembles anything like the one I wrote, let me know – I’ll high five you over email!

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