You’re on summer vacation at the beach. What are the chances that you pull out your phone to check your work email? No matter how much we might say we recognize the value of unplugging, most of us aren’t very good at actually doing it. One study found that as many as 83% of employees check email on vacation.
If we can’t stem our email addiction by ourselves, maybe the answer is to make it automatic. At Daimler’s headquarters in Germany, employees have the option to turn on a “Mail on Holiday” function on their email: Every time an email comes in while the employee is away, it’s automatically deleted.
Instead of the usual out of office message, contacts get a notification that the email hasn’t gone through, and they can either try to reach an alternate person or try again when the vacationer is back. Even for those who can successfully avoid email while away, the strategy makes a difference, since you’re not faced with the stress of a bulging inbox after the vacation ends.
“Work-life balance is very important for the company,” says a Daimler spokesperson. “This is one thing we wanted to offer our colleagues with various other programs like job-sharing and sabbaticals.”
After a massive survey of 6,000 employees, the company added the vacation email tool, along with new policies recommending that employees switch off email on weekends.
So far, feedback has been positive. “I tried Mail on Holiday when I was on summer vacation, and it’s fantastic,” says the spokesperson. “It’s wonderful. It’s a great feeling coming back from the holidays and your email account is empty. It’s just important to have a back-up person.”
Across Germany, other companies are experimenting with policies like turning off emails to company-issued smartphones at night and asking managers not to send emails during off-hours.
Time away from email actually may make employees more productive: In one study of tech-addicted consultants, an experiment eliminating emails on nights and weekends reduced work hours by 11% without affecting the work that actually got done. Even just ignoring work emails before bed can make you better at work the next day.
Can Daimler’s tool work in other places? Daimler itself hasn’t implemented it in international offices yet, though they’re considering it. In a place like the U.S., where the average employee doesn’t even use all of their vacation time, it might be a harder cultural fit.