Monday, 3 August 2015

Incommunicado

I haven't blogged for a few weeks as I've been on holiday. I deliberately turned off my work emails and calls during the holiday and went almost two weeks without interruptions from my professional life. 

Here's why, and what I learned. 

This was my second holiday of the year. We went to South Devon and had a lovely time. But it was in my first holiday this year that I got the idea. Back in early May we went to the far North of Scotland and whilst there we had no wifi or mobile phone signal. There were occasions where signal would break through or where we visited a place that had free wifi, and on those occasions work emails and voicemails would push through and, by and large, I'd spend some time looking at them in case there was anything earth shattering. Whilst this made me feel alright about work pressures, I couldn't help but notice the glances from my partner and also the things I was missing out on, like quality family time. 

So I figured this time round I'd turn them off completely.

I think people reading this will be divided into two camps.  One camp will be thinking "its a holiday, why on earth would you be checking emails and voiemails? Are you mad?".  And the other camp will be thinking "of course if you have an important job you should keep in touch".

This has been a subject covered in the media in recent years. Germany is considering banning outside working hours contact for example.

France already has.

A lot of these come from the angle of reducing stress for the individual. I should clarify that my decision had nothing to do with reducing work stress, and everything to do with increasing the quality of the time I spend with my family. I don't often get stressed by work and sometimes the ability to clear a few emails whilst sat on the balcony overlooking the hotel pool whilst the kids are asleep has been actually helpful from a work perspective. 

After all, there was a risk that I would return to work facing an uphill battle to get my workload back on an even keel, a subject even the CIPD weighed in on recently.

In previous holidays I'd always checked work emails and voicemails, and had sent quick replies to things that "only took a minute" or which appeared very urgent. In my head I was underlining how vitally important I was that I couldn't even switch off on holiday and needed to keep a watching eye on things back at work. In fact, one wondered if work could even carry on without me.

How utterly wrong I was, and how ridiculous I must have seemed. 

There's also the risk that you'll read an email or listen to a voicemail that will get you so riled up it spoils your holiday. That hasn't happened to me but I've seen someone else do it, read an email whilst abroad and get so stressed about it that they went off sick through anxiety at the end of their leave. 

So beforehand I was determined to switch off and enjoy my family time, the first holiday I'd taken with my partner and all three of my children. 

Of course I had to make sure that I'd finished everything I could beforehand, left as few loose ends as possible and let key people know that I'd be back in a fortnight and to save anything urgent till then, as well as briefing anyone else who I needed to do anything during my absence. I worked harder in the days leading up to this than at any recent time in order to achieve this. 

During the fortnight (well, 12 days actually but fortnight sounds better) I thought I'd be tempted to turn things back on sneakily, but surprised myself by mentally switching off too. That's not to say I didn't think about work at all. I did, quite a few times. It's a big part of my life and there is a lot happening at the moment. But I didn't fret about it. I figured people could get hold of me in an absolute emergency, but I knew I'd set things up well enough not to worry for a fortnight. 

And here's the thing. I enjoyed my holiday more as a result, and our family time was amazing. And guess what? My company was still there when I got back this week. Nothing drastic had happened and although there were many hundreds of emails to wade through when I returned and a number of voicemails, some of these had sorted themselves in my absence WITHOUT MY INTERVENTION. 

Like magic. 

I guess no one is irreplaceable. But, saying that, I still hope David De Gea stays at United because he comes pretty close to being irreplaceable. 

Afterwards I felt a little guilty but tried to tell people when they asked that, of course I'd enjoyed my holiday (that's what everyone says), but a factor in that was being able to switch off. 

I had to work just as hard in my first few days back as I had done in my final few days before the holiday, but I felt better about it and felt that my mind was clear and part of me actually enjoyed being back at work as in some way I'd missed it. 

But rather that than my family miss me while I'm on holiday with them because I'm "just quickly checking emails". 

So here I am, back at work, and feeling refreshed. 

Would I do it again?

Yes. To me the pros far outweigh the cons. 

But..what do you think? What have your experiences been?

Till next time...

Gary

PS in other news, I turned 40 during the holiday. Quite a fright. But a good opportunity to reflect on life, and I might share my views on turning 40 in my next blog...