Should holiday email be deleted?

Employee deleting email

German vehicle-maker Daimler has an innovative approach to holiday email, which many people about to return from holiday may well wish their company would copy, writes William Kremer.

There ought to be a word - and perhaps there is, in German - for the mix of feelings that accompanies composing and activating a holiday out-of-office message. There's smugness, of course, and a gratifying sense of laying down one's virtual tools after a horribly long shift. But for many of us, these nice feelings are tempered by the knowledge that in two weeks, refreshed but depressed, we will have to trawl through hundreds of emails, many of which will be conference room notifications for meetings about crises that have passed.

But for employees at Daimler things are a little different. Email these people while they are on holiday and you will get a message like this:

  • I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted. Please contact Hans or Monika if it's really important, or resend the email after I'm back in the office. Danke Schoen.

Apparently, people receiving such a notification rarely get angry. "The response is basically 99% positive, because everybody says, 'That's a real nice thing, I would love to have that too,'" Daimler spokesman Oliver Wihofszki told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Holiday envy has been replaced by corporate email policy envy.

Scrap holidays, not holiday email

"Taking time off completely, stress experts say, is essential if we are to connect with our families and with our souls and recharge our batteries.

"But in my experience it doesn't work quite like this. A human battery is a funny piece of kit, and doesn't always respond well to a sudden, cold-turkey immersion in idleness with the family in a strange place."

The response on Twitter has also been overwhelmingly positive. "I love Daimler's approach to holiday email," says the entrepreneur Nuno Almeida, while the FT's Hanna Kuchler tweets: "Now this is email management."

The auto-delete policy - which is optional - follows a piece of government-funded research on work-life balance, which Daimler carried out in 2010 and 2011 with psychologists from the University of Heidelberg. The company now trains managers to set a good work-life example, and encourages them to set aside time when no meetings can be scheduled. This is supposed to be a time when workers can concentrate on their job, or take time off for any extra hours they have spent in the office.

Daimler's move follows Volkswagen's decision to turn email off after office hours and new guidelines in France ordering workers in some sectors to ignore work emails when they go home.

It's not pure altruism though, as the company explained when the policy was launched: "The aim of the project is to maintain the balance between the work and home life of Daimler employees so as to safeguard their performance in the long run."

We asked whether you would like to have emails sent during holidays deleted. Here are some of your comments.

I set up a similar "out of office" from work just before I was out of the country on vacation in July, which read something like this: "I am on annual leave and will not be returning until 21 July. Please re-send your email after this date or contact my colleagues, if urgent, on number... etc." I was pulled into the office on my return and informed that this was not "professional" and that I was suggesting I wouldn't respond to emails on my return unless they re-sent it. Yes, that's exactly what I was saying! Apparently, as it turns out, this was wholly inappropriate.

Tess, Bristol

What a great idea. The dread of opening emails after a week or two of holiday is a feeling known and loathed by millions of office workers in the UK. This week I came back to 332 new emails after two weeks off. Nothing brings you down to earth quicker than a full inbox.

Toby, Northampton

Rubbish. When you get back from holiday the last thing you want to do is work. Checking holiday emails for that elusive vital message that only you received is now the traditional way to ease yourself back into work. Usually the job is done by 11am, just before your tea break.

Jon, Chelmsford

I returned from holiday on Monday having made a conscious decision to ignore my Blackberry for the couple weeks I was off. This resulted in almost 2,500 emails for me upon my return. I deleted 2,000 of these almost immediately, and spent my first day back scanning the remaining 500. By the end of my first day back I'd narrowed those 500 down to less than 20 where I actually needed to do anything, and after talking to the people who contacted me, about three quarters of them had already resolved their issues. Overall I spent around 10 hours going through my backlog, and the net benefit to the business was negligible. Next time I go away I think I'll take the Daimler approach!

Frank, Glasgow

The most distressing aspect of holiday email - which I feel has been neglected here - is the trauma of reading team emails for baked goods, which colleagues have brought in during your absence and devoured long before your return. So cruel.

Kate, London

About 10 years ago I once ran a busy customer relations department for an international company. Even in those "early days" of email I used to receive about 80 emails a day. I went on a long holiday to the South Pacific and was away, out of the office, for 16 working days. Faced with the prospect of returning to well over a 1,000 emails, I put the following out of office message up. " I am away on holiday now until (Date). My computer has been installed with eDelete software that will automatically delete any incoming emails during these dates. Please re-send any relevant emails to me after my return." eDelete software did not, of course, exist. Upon my return I simply highlighted all the emails in my inbox and cheerfully pressed the delete button! Guess how many emails were re-sent to me? Yes, you are right... none!

Brian, Solihull

Many people started using versions of this email a while ago. Does no-one else find it, well, a little passive-aggressive?

Gordon, London

It's a nice idea but is it really necessary? As an employee I'm perfectly capable of leaving my e-mail switched off when I go on holiday. You never know, there might just be something worth reading in my inbox when I get back, and would it really have got re-sent?

Stephen, Manchester

This makes good sense and I know of a former CEO of a PLC who did it when he went away. It is not rude, in fact it's helpful if you give them an alternative. Coming back from holiday is stressful. I had 550 emails after a two-week break. Most ended up deleted.

Graham Ford, Bristol

This is fine for junior employees. For company directors, entrepreneurs and more importantly people working in healthcare, mental health, social services, police you cannot do this. It has legal implications and if someone is hurt then until there is case law which says "an out-of-office notice absolves you of responsibility or is not considered a legal notification", this just doesn't work for anyone in a position of authority. (Authority brings with it responsibility, and hopefully extra pay as compensation so it's also fair.) Plus if we expect our politicians to come back from holiday whenever anything happens, including events over which they have no influence, why do the rest of us get off scot-free. If everyone applied the same standards to others then this would be a good idea. But unfortunately most people have one rule for themselves but complain when others don't respond immediately to them.

J, London

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