22/08/2013 06:21 BST | Updated 20/10/2013 06:12 BST

Is it OK to Disconnect on Vacation?

Over the last year or so the most pressing question for most business people has become 'is it OK to disconnect from my inbox' during my vacation. It was interesting to read in the Financial Times (2 August 2013) how Arianna Huffington has banished four of her BlackBerrys from her bedside and is getting in to the idea of a digital diet whilst on vacation.

If you ask those who stay connected why they do so, most say they feel they must. Probe deeper and ask either is it part of their job description/corporate policy or did their boss say they must. Most say no to both questions. So why do we stay connected? There are a number of reasons:

  • Addiction - email dependency (addiction) is now well recognized and as hard, if not harder, to treat than substance addiction as you cannot use drugs. You are solely reliant on changing behavior which whilst difficult can be achieved.
  • Management style - many of today's leaders are micro managers and like to know what is happening every minute of every day.
  • Self-importance - you trust no one and so must remain connected as you believe you are the only one who can solve the challenges facing your business.
  • Inability to switch off - living in this 24x7x365 world you have lost the ability to switch off properly and let your mind go into free fall and truly relax.

Again with the right coaching and help the last three behaviors can be modified if the person wants to change. The word 'want' is the key as many people either do not recognize the impact their email behavior is having on others (both work colleagues and family and friends) or just do not have the desire to change.

Few organizations have any formal email policy policy about how to handle email whilst away and this is an area of policy which needs addressing. In the absence of any formal guidance, for those who do feel they would like to disconnect, there remains the question is it acceptable? What messages does it send about them and their leadership style and business. No one is indispensable. To be blunt when we die our business continues - look at Steve Jobs.

Constantly being connected has been shown to be bad for our mental health, as Maggie Jackson revealed in 'Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age'. It distorts our ability to think strategically . Many suffer from chronic sleep deprivation and one factor is looking at screens just before going to sleep.

Despite all the advances in technology as human beings everyone needs to re-charge their batteries from time to time which means giving yourself down time to disconnect. Three cheers for Arianna Huffington for at least trying and encouraging her staff to do the same.

Disconnecting can bring significant benefits as Susan Maushart showed in 'The Winter of Our Disconnect'. You can find hidden talents and skills, rediscover the art of conversation and blue sky thinking.

What if you feel you must stay connected - how can this be done to minimize the potential stress and disruption to the vacation. Here are three tips for those who must stay in the loop.

  • Only check the inbox once and at most twice a day and preferably at the end of the day. If it is more urgent you can rest assured someone will phone you!
  • Before going on vacation set up filters so you see only those emails which are important.
  • Manage senders expectations and use your auto-response/Out of Office message to indicate that whilst you will be on-line access maybe limited.

Last but by no means least there is always the option of giving a colleague access to your inbox and asking them to alert you to anything very significant which only you can handle. Those against this option often cite privacy and security. However, all the emails in your business inbox should only contain work-related email so there should be nothing to hide. This also sends a loud message about a management culture and style of trust and delegation which helps reduce the email overload.

For business leaders too, review your email policy and consider what guidance you should give employees about email etiquette when on vacation.