Setting your Out of Office is often the last thing you do before you shut the laptop for your vacation. It’s that satisfying final click of the mouse which signifies it’s time to relax. It also might be something which undermines a lot of the other good work you’re doing as a manager.
Perhaps it looks a bit like this.
‘Thank you for your message. I am out of the office until [date]. I will be checking my emails periodically but for anything urgent please contact [team member] or [team member].’
It’s probably the one that you’ve reactivated from the last holiday you took. Or something you copied and pasted from your boss.
It’s also not great.
Here’s some of the potential issues:
You’re setting an example of working on holiday: ‘It’s only checking a few emails, I’m not really working.’ Erm, yes you are. Emails are work, and your team will see that message and wonder whether they’re also expected to do the same. Even if you tell them they’re not, your actions speak louder. This year, more than any other year, your team should be able to take vacation and time for themselves without feeling guilty that they should be working. Messaging like this doesn’t help.
You’re working badly: what are you achieving by telling your colleagues/clients/customers that you’ll be responding ‘periodically’ (‘slower than usual’ is another culprit). What does that even mean? In a day? A week? All you’ve done is tell everyone you’re going to be working, but doing it ineffectively. Why would that be a helpful solution to the people who are messaging you?
You don’t trust your team: ah, is it because answering emails ‘periodically’ is better than them being answered by one of your colleagues? If that genuinely is the case, you’ve got hiring issues on your team. But most of the time, it’s a question of being reluctant to delegate appropriately and entrust others to handle team affairs whilst you’re away. This will feel uncomfortable the first time you do it. But providing your team has the ability to handle it, the trust it demonstrates is invaluable. It’s often fascinating to come back from vacation and find out which of your team have stepped up and in what ways. Conversely, if you fail to delegate, the opposite is true. How you take vacation is a very transparent sign of how much you trust your team.
You haven’t left clear responsibilities: when you do delegate, make it clear to your recipient who they should contact for what. Either leave one name for everything, or multiple names with clear roles. Don’t, as in the example above, throw a couple of names out there which will just be confusing for the recipient.
The costs to your vacation: if it wasn’t enough to set a bad cultural example, ineffectively serve your customers and demonstrate a lack of trust in your team, whilst you’re busy doing all those things, you’re also not spending your vacation how you would want to. There’s an opportunity cost to all these actions. Is it really worth compromising your vacation to answer emails ‘periodically’? Of course not. Take a clean break so you can rest, recharge and return as a more effective leader.
To be clear, there are a small number of roles and/or circumstances which require leaders to be online when they’re on vacation. But these are pretty specific. The vast majority of people working whilst on vacation do so due to either a poor working culture, lack of adequate delegation, or a misguided sense of their own importance. Or all of the above.
So when you’re heading out on vacation this summer, just pause to think about what your out-of-office arrangements say about you as a manager. They may matter more than you think.