Sunday, July 5, 2015

The fundamental unfairness of the vacation auto reply

With the summer holidays rapidly approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about vacation auto replies.
Here’s the problem: Although anyone who sends you a mail is told not to expect a reply until you get back, they probably still expect an answer at that point. This is fundamentally unfair.
You’re away from work. As part of your contract with the company, you have some time off and yet some of the work from your vacation time is thereby shifted into your post-vacation work days.
And I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a company that plans for their employees to have extra time after a vacation to deal with the emails that came in during the vacation. Therefore this becomes extra work you have to do on top of your regular tasks.
One consequence of this is that many people end up checking their emails and responding to them during their holidays, which is also unfair. You’re entitled to time away from work. That’s what a holiday is.
One of the most insidious effects of this is that taking longer stretches of time away from the office is punished immediately upon return, because your inbox will be full to overflowing. I haven’t seen any research on this, but I could easily imagine that this would subconsciously discourage people from taking time off or at the very least increase stress around any time off.
What can we do about it? This policy from Daimler     is the solution:
The car and truck maker has implemented a new program that allows employees to set their email software to automatically delete incoming emails while they are on vacation.
When an email is sent, the program, which is called “Mail on Holiday,” issues a reply to the sender that the person is out of the office and that the email will be deleted, while also offering the contact information of another employee for pressing matters.
Brilliant. Now you can go on vacation knowing that when you come back, your inbox will contain the same number of emails as when you left.
I think this is the perfect solution and I would love to see more companies adopt it. Maybe this is something unions could work for in the 21st century.
Your take
Do you have a vacation auto reply? Do you check and reply to emails during your vacation or handle them all when you’re back?  If you go on vacation for 2 weeks, how many mails are going to be in your inbox when you get back? How much time will it take you to deal with them and how do you plan for it?
Thank you Alexander Kjerulf for this post first seen on