“Thank you for your e-mail. I am on holiday in Manhattan shadowing a hedge fund manager to pick up ideas on how to serve my clients’ interests more aggressively. With so many alpha males involved, there are some quite heavy bonding sessions (LOL) so I may not pick up your e-mail immediately.
However, because of the time difference I have the opportunity to communicate with clients in the UK while the Americans are asleep. So don’t worry – I will get back to you. I didn’t get where I am today by lazing around!”
This example of an “out of office” may be slightly over the top but we are all a bit self-conscious in this country about our time off and tend to be apologetic about it and anxious to reassure people that we are not neglecting them and will deal with their needs as soon as we possibly can. People who want to get on see responding to e-mails while they’re on holiday as a means of showing their commitment.
That may be fine as a matter of principle but we all know that most of our e-mails ask vital questions like “Has anyone seen my yoga mat?” or ‘Would anyone like to buy a second hand smoothie mixer?”
Rather than leaving its employees to negotiate this minefield unaided, German vehicle-maker Daimler has taken the decision from them. If you e-mail a Daimler employee you will get a message like this:
“I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted. Please contact Hans or Monika if it’s really important, or resend the email after I’m back in the office. Danke Schoen.”
The policy follows a piece of government-funded research on work-life balance, which Daimler carried out in 2010 and 2011 with psychologists from the University of Heidelberg and its aim is “to maintain the balance between the work and home life of Daimler employees so as to safeguard their performance in the long run.”
The response to the policy is hugely positive. It turns out that we don’t mind being told someone is on holiday and, for our e-mails that are genuinely important, are quite happy to wait for them to return or speak to someone else. The UK response to news coverage has been interesting though. There are people who think this approach is unprofessional or that it is only appropriate for junior people or that it may create professional indemnity or health and safety risks.
The logic of Daimler’s position sweeps all this aside. The policy should be universal and automated and apply to senior people – the more responsibility people have, the more important it is that they take a proper break. Perhaps the author of our e-mail from Manhattan needs to realise that the people with the real cojones are the ones who dare to forget their e-mails for a couple of weeks.
Other blogs you might be interested in: