Most employees dread the avalanche of holiday e-mails that is waiting in their inbox when they return from annual leave.
People who send e-mails to employees when they are away holiday can normally expect to receive an automated message, commonly known as an “out of office e-mail,” informing them when a e-mail may be read and offering an alternative contact for urgent messages.
Urgent or important emails requiring action are therefore likely to have been dealt with by colleagues during a person’s absence while the bulk of informative mail may be past its ‘sell by date’ or of little importance in the first place.
As the burden of email grows, so too grows the debate about how the usual post-holiday e-mail misery could be managed more effectively. If changes are deemed necessary, businesses should be mindful of their legal and other responsibilities when they adopt new policies.
E-mail Deleted on Arrival
In 2014, the German car company Daimler announced that e-mail received when workers are on holiday will be deleted and senders asked to resend the e-mail on the employees return, or contact a colleague who is in the office.
Such a policy could have far reaching impacts. Unless there is careful delegation of the absentee’s tasks, other employees may receive instructions that they are unfamiliar with. Moreover it may mean that additional time is needed to bring colleagues up to speed before the absent employee leaves and also for the holidaying employee to be updated when they return. Some holiday e-mail, even if it is a small percentage, can also help an employee stay informed about work place matters that have moved on in their absence.
Furthermore, in the modern workplace something may occur during an employee’s absence that may directly affect their ongoing work and, in the case of services sectors like law, their clients. In these situations it can be essential that employees have a comprehensive record of these developments. If a record does not exist, there is a risk an employee may later take a course of action that directly contradicts work done in their absence. This may risk breaches of contract or of professional standards.
Businesses considering this type of radical change in e-mail policy must therefore take into account the typical working relationship they have with external parties, the terms and conditions that govern those relationships and any professional standards that might be relevant.
Benefits of E-mail Deletion
Supporters of Daimler’s new policy have argued that the change is a valuable way to protect the wellbeing of employees.
It follows a piece of academic research carried out by Daimler and the University of Heidelburg which suggested that setting aside time without access to work and work related materials made them more productive in the long run.
In addition, Daimler also extends the no-email rule to weekends, although these e-mails are not deleted.
Changing Workplace Policies
It is essential that any policy regarding holiday e-mail (or other issues in the workplace) is designed, implemented and managed effectively to ensure that the work of the company does not suffer and the rights of employees are not prejudiced.
The deletion of holiday e-mail may have contrasting implications for companies thinking of adopting this approach. On one hand, employees may be more productive in the long run but on the other hand, ineffective management could lead to work being overlooked and key deadlines missed.
Issues such as accountability and access to communication records such as notices received by email would need to be addressed during implementation. This may require changes to other internal and external documentation such as a business’ terms and conditions.